Australian Institute of Criminology

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Deaths in custody: highest on record

Media Release

24 September 1997

The number of deaths in custody in Australia has risen to its highest levels since reporting began in 1980. For the 1996/97 year, the number was 97, the highest in either financial or calendar years.

These figures will be released in a paper tomorrow by Vicki Dalton, a research analyst with the Australian Institute of Criminology; the paper will be presented at a workshop in Broadbeach, Queensland, run by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation for Legal Services Secretariat.

In the paper, Ms Dalton points to figures showing that 13 out of 17 indigenous deaths in custody in Queensland (between 1990/1 and 1996/7) resulted from hanging; this, she said, was a major cause for concern.

She stresses that concern must now be directed towards the high number of Aboriginal deaths occurring in the course of custody-related police operations, specifically the large number occurring in the course of or immediately following police pursuits.

Ms Dalton also emphasises a substantial reduction in the proportion of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal deaths in police "institutional" settings, calling this a notable achievement on the part of Australia's police services.

The figures show that deaths in prison custody across Australia rose over the 17-year period from 28 to to 61.