Australian Institute of Criminology

Skip to content

Aboriginal deaths in custody

  1. Anderson, C. 1990, 'Poor Billy Blanket Lost Among the Lawyers', The Independent Monthly, September.

    In September 1988 the Royal Commission sat at Wujalwujal, an Aboriginal community on the Bloomfield River in Cape York Peninsula. It was investigating the death of a young Aboriginal man there in 1987. The author, who had worked here years earlier as an anthropologist, was accompanying several lawyers and other staff of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. He believes the Royal Commission failed here because it was merely another form of ignorant European intervention. Aboriginal interpretations of the events were not taken seriously. He argues that the community itself, as an instrument and outcome of state control, is the real problem.

  2. Bacon, W., Mason, B. and Cronau, P. 1995, 'Aboriginal Deaths in Custody: A Dead Issue?', Reportage, No. 5, Autumn, pp. 17-22.

    Reporting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues has shown some signs of improvement. But mainstream media reporting of the failure of governments to implement recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody has been virtually non-existent. This article reports how the media have failed to analyse why the deaths are continuing. Reportage is produced by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney.

  3. Behrendt, J. and Behrendt, L. 1992, 'Recommendations, Rhetoric and Another 33 Aboriginal Deaths in Custody: Aboriginal Custodial Deaths Since May 1989', Aboriginal Law Bulletin, vol. 2, no. 59, December, pp. 4-7.

    The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody revealed that Aboriginal people were dying in custody at a rate of just under one a month and this had stayed the same during the period discussed in this paper. Interim reports were to express recommendations and suggestions which when implemented would reduce the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody, suggesting imprisonment as the last resort, the decriminalisation of public drunkenness, education of staff in terms of both Aboriginal cultural and health issues, as well as the effects of isolation and the screening of racist attitudes. Deaths could have been prevented had the Interim Report recommendations been immediately acted upon by Governments. Reports of Inquiry into individual deaths by Royal Commissioner have been largely ignored. Many key recommendations of National Report have not been implemented. Response of governments to Royal Commission's recommendations have been largely unacceptable. Unless governments undertake a real commitment to preventing deaths in custody, those deaths will continue.

  4. Broadhurst, R.G. and Maller, R.A. 1990, 'Black Deaths in Custody: A Letter to the Editor', The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 152, April 2.

    This is a letter to the editor in response to an article by Goldney and Reser on Aboriginal deaths in custody published in The Medical Journal of Australia.

  5. Committee to Defend Black Rights. 1989, 'Initial Responses to the First Four Case Reports: Kingsley Dixon, Charlie Michaels, Edward Murray and John Highfold', Aboriginal Law Bulletin, vol. 2, no. 36, February, p. 6.

    The article notes that the first four reports are important in setting the structure and processes of the Commission as it moves on through the rest of the Case Reports. These first four reports are also important in assessing community responses. There were no recommendations and charges laid against any custodial officers, yet another defeat for the Aboriginal community after years of being booted around. The findings have been left open, in the sense that there is room for the families to take out civil action, and for the States, through the Attorney-General, to examine the findings to ascertain whether any charges should be laid.

  6. Cunneen, C. and Behrendt, J. 1994, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Custodial Deaths Between May 1989 and January 1994, A Report to the National Committee to Defend Black Rights.

    The purpose of this report is to overview Aboriginal custodial deaths since 31 May 1989, to indicate whether Royal Commission recommendations are being followed and to consider any changes in the incidence and causes of such deaths since the Commission's recommendations were released. The report provides statistics on Aboriginal deaths since the Royal Commission and draws on coronial information available. Details about deaths since 31 May 1989 are provided along with the circumstances and the manner surrounding the deaths.

  7. Goldney, Robert D. and Reser, Joseph P. 1989, 'Aboriginal Deaths in Custody', Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 151, 21 August, pp. 181-2.

    Acknowledges the considerable publicity concerning the conflicting cultural perceptions with regards to Aboriginal deaths in custody. Most issues reveal their complexity once examined carefully - findings based on past coroners decisions and Royal Commissions have delineated the issue of Aboriginal deaths in custody into two broad overlapping components: (1) Deaths in Custody (be they Aboriginal or otherwise); and (2) Overrepresentation of Aborigines in custody. Reiterates the significant seriousness of Aboriginal deaths in custody but recognises that it is not a complex phenomenon exclusive to Aboriginal communities alone. States the reasons for these deaths, both of black and white persons, demand for the closest scrutiny. The separate, but overlapping issue of the overrepresentation of Aborigines in custody is less likely to find its solution by medical inquiry.

  8. Grabosky, P., Scandia, A., Hazlehurst, K. and Wilson, P. 1988, Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 'Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice', No. 12, May, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra.

    This report was written in May 1988 by researchers at the Australian Institute of Criminology. At the time of writing the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was underway, chaired by the Honourable Mr James H Muirhead, Q.C., former Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory, Judge of the Federal Court of Australia and Acting Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology. The Royal Commission had been established in August 1987 following the sixteenth Aboriginal death in custody in eight months and at the time this document was written the available evidence suggested that, since 1980, at least 100 Aboriginals had died in the custody of Australian police or prison authorities. The Royal Commissioner urged Australian governments to take immediate action to reduce the risk of deaths in custody, and not to postpone reforms until the tabling of his final report. It was hoped that this report would be of use in the interim. The report reviews some of the basic facts surrounding those cases which have been identified, and will summarise a number of options which, if implemented, could significantly lower the risk of death of persons in custody, regardless of their race. The report looks at categorising incidents of deaths in custody and at proposals for reducing the risks of future Aboriginal deaths in custody including non-institutional alternatives for Aboriginal offenders, Aboriginal community courts and dispute resolution programs and diversion of public drunkenness from the criminal justice system.

  9. Graham, Duncan. 1989, Dying Inside, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

    Black citizens die in the custody of white police and in bizarre circumstances. South Africa? No, Australia, where apartheid is officially abhorred, and there is a strong popular commitment to human rights. Why are so many blacks in Gaol. Why do Aboriginal Australians continue to die in custody? Are they dying by neglect, being killed by police and warders, or committing suicide? Dying Inside sets out to answer these and other questions in the first full-length analysis of the most contentious social issue now facing Australia. It presents the background to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Black Deaths in Custody. It explains why that Inquiry is an inadequate response which cannot but fail its supporters. It examines some specific cases, and recommends ways to halt a continuing tragedy.

  10. Grossman, M. 1992, 'Two Perspectives on Aboriginal Suicides in Custody', Canadian Journal of Criminology, vol. 34, no. 3-4, pp. 403.

    Recent inmate suicides by Aboriginal women at Kingston's Prison for Women have brought attention to the situation of the Aboriginal female offender. Two theoretical perspectives which explain the aetiology of suicide are identified. Deprivation theory emphasises the role of the carceral environment while importation theory focuses on individual inmate characteristics. Research evidence relating to the two theories is reviewed. These opposing perspectives are rejected in favour of an interactionist approach which stresses the interplay between environmental forces (e.g. social and physical isolation created by incarceration) and individual risk factors (e.g. economic deprivation and violence existing prior to the inmate's admittance to custody).

  11. Kalokerinos, A. 1989, 'Neglected Medical Aspects of Aboriginal Deaths in Custody', Aboriginal Law Bulletin, vol. 2, no. 36, February, pp. 5-6.

    This article reports on misrepresented deaths and deaths caused by the neglect of symptoms. The author states his own anger over a number of cases he was professionally involved in where evidence was misrepresented or falsified or medical symptoms neglected or ignored. Dr Kalokerinos states some neglected medical aspects which can lead to Aboriginal deaths in custody and the proper ways to go about solving these aspects.

  12. Kerley, K. and Cunneen, C. 1993(?), Deaths in Custody in Australia: The Untold Story of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women.

    This paper focuses on those deaths which were investigated by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and considers a number of other deaths of Aboriginal women which have occurred since 1989. Also notes issues relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and the criminal justice system which were not adequately addressed by the Royal Commission, for example, no specific gender analysis. The paper looks at the figures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in both police and prison custody and the reasons for their imprisonment. It makes it clear that indigenous women face comparatively greater rates of incarceration among women than do indigenous men among the male population.

  13. Melville, D., Jeans, D., Adcock, T. and Preston, W. 1994, 'Aboriginal Deaths in Custody: Evaluation of the Queensland Police Service's Implementation of the Recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody', Current Issues in Criminal Justice, vol. 6, no. 2, November, pp. 252-63.

    Of the 399 recommendations contained in the National Report of the RCIADIC, the Queensland Police Service had responsibility for implementing 100. The Queensland Police Service has sole responsibility for 25 in Queensland and shared responsibility for the remaining 75 together with other State government agencies. The purpose of the paper is to provide a descriptive account of the various initiatives introduced by the QUEENSLAND POLICE SERVICE in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission. It reflects the situation as of March 1994.

  14. Powder, Pearce and Law, Eric. 1987, The Powder-Law Report on the Incidence of Rising Suicides by Aborigines on Queensland Communities Whilst in Custody, (29 July 1987), Minister for Northern Development and Community Services, Brisbane.

    Cabinet had agreed that an investigation into the incidents of rising suicides by Aborigines in custody be carried out. One of our tasks was to ascertain whether jails have safety measures put into practice. We were also instructed to investigate if agencies are adequately staffed so that future suicides could be reduced. Our report also suggests some action or activities that communities might need to consider in the future. Major recommendations of this report included effective training and career paths for community police, appointment of watchhouse keepers on all communities, new police stations at Ayton and Hope Vale, improved housing situations, community education programs, alcohol rehabilitation centres, alcohol and drug education programs in schools, CDEP offered to all communities, improved health facilities, new watchhouses at three locations, strengthening, maintaining and resurrection of Aboriginal culture on communities and consistent co-ordination between agencies on communities.

  15. Reser, Joseph P. 1990, 'Black Deaths in Custody: Letter to the Editor', The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 152, April 2, p. 382.

    Letter to the Editor of the Medical Journal of Australia in response to a letter to the Editor from Broadhurst and Maller, University of WA, responding to Reser and Goldney's article on Aboriginal deaths in custody.

  16. Socialist Labour League. 1994, The Truth About the Killing of Daniel Yock: Workers Inquiry Exposes Police Murder, Labour Press Books, Marrickville, NSW.

    This volume contains the record of the campaign conducted by the Socialist Labour League and the Committee for a Workers Inquiry, the evidence which was presented to the public hearing and the findings brought down by the Workers Inquiry. This book is a vehicle for the Socialist Labour League to illustrate the oppression of the working class and to encourage the overthrow of the capitalist system. 'By fighting to uncover the truth behind the death of Daniel Yock, this Workers Inquiry will begin the process of arming the working class as a whole with the necessary political weapons to conduct a struggle to put an end to state repression once and for all.' The book challenges the impartiality of the CJC and sees the Aboriginal Legal Service as supporting 'the establishment'. It contains a detailed account of the public hearing and an eye witness account of the incident. It also reports the medical evidence given by Dr Holman Koops in which he disputes the finding that Daniel Yock died of a Stokes-Adams attack.

  17. Spencer, John. 1989(?), 'Aboriginal Deaths in Custody: A Letter to the Editor', Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry?, vol. ?, pp. 164-5.

    In this letter to the Editor, John Spencer states that the majority of Aboriginal suicides and custodial deaths occurred totally or partially as a result of self-inflicted injury. One of the commonest associated factors with suicide and suicidal behaviours is the experience of gloom, pessimism and depression and alcohol contributes to depression and suicidal behaviour. In the case of Aboriginal people loss of a culture and bond of significance between mean and the land and territorial disposition underlies a major emotional loss contributing much to anomie, helplessness, powerlessness and depression.

  18. Wilson, David. 1988, 'Australia's Death Cells', Good Weekend (Sydney Morning Herald Magazine), November 19, pp. 56-68.

    This article investigates some Queensland lockups and their disgraceful conditions; the treatment of Aboriginals within, and the mystery surrounding the loss of some police documents and a hospital file on Kulla Kulla, an Aboriginal who died in custody.

Recent publications