Australian Institute of Criminology

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Sharp increase in Aboriginal prison deaths

Media Release

26 June 1996

The number of Aboriginal deaths in Australian prisons is running at an all-time high, according to figures released today by the Australian Institute of Criminology.

During 1995, 17 Aboriginal people died in Australian prisons, a 45 per cent increase on 1994 when 11 deaths occurred, and the highest number recorded for any of the sixteen years for which data are available. Eight of the Aboriginal prison deaths were from hanging, seven from illness and two from injuries.

This disturbing finding comes from a new report, Deaths in Custody & Custody-related Police Operations, 1995 released today by the Institute. It is part of a continuing series of reports from the AIC's monitoring trends in Australian custodial deaths.

While overall the total number of deaths in police custody and in police operations (5 Aboriginal and 21 non-Aboriginal) is similar to the 1994 figure, there were no Aboriginal deaths in police lockups in 1995, although there were 3 non-Aboriginal deaths in police lockups during the year. During 1995, 86 people died in all forms of custody and custody-related police operations, 21 Aboriginal and 65 non-Aboriginal.

The report, authored by Vicki Dalton, Melanie Brown and David McDonald of the Australian Institute of Criminology, concludes that Australia is facing a crisis in Aboriginal deaths in prison, similar to the 1987 crisis in Aboriginal deaths in police custody which led to the establishment of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.