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Prison homicides on the increase

Media Release

16 February 1999

Prisoner inmates are seven times more likely to be homicide victims than the general population.

This is the finding of a paper prepared by Vicki Dalton, and released today by the Australian Institute of Criminology based on 19 years of data from the its National Deaths in Custody Monitoring.

Prison Homicides in Australia documents the 56 homicides of inmates inflicted by other inmates that have occurred in Australian prisons since 1980.

"People in prison suffer a great deal of violence," said AIC Director Dr Adam Graycar. "These figures reflect those violent incidents which result in death, and we are certain that numerous violent incidents occur, which could just as easily end in death."

"Prisons have always been violent places", said Dr Graycar, "and violence reduction is an enormously difficult policy challenge."

While these homicides comprise only seven per cent of all prison inmate deaths (although under-reporting is possible), there has been an increase in both the number and rate of prison homicides over the last 19 years, particularly in recent years.

A major contributing factor appears to be that over the same period, the national average daily prison population has increased by 76 per cent and the national average rate of imprisonment has increased by 85 per cent.

More than half the number of prison homicides (thirty) have occurred in New South Wales; eleven in Queensland, eight in Victoria, five in South Australia and two in Western Australia. No prison homicides have been recorded in Tasmania, the NT or the ACT.

Most victims were stabbed and due to the severity of attacks, almost half died in their cells before any medical intervention was possible.

Last year there were eight homicides, the largest number since reporting commenced and seven of these were in NSW. The greatest number of homicides has occurred at the Goulburn Correctional Centre in NSW.

Sex offenders comprised 25 per cent, as did armed robbers. 14.3 per cent were serving sentences for drug offences and 12.5 per cent were themselves incarcerated for homicide.

All victims, except one, were men, with an average age of 33 years.

Deaths in Custody is one of the many topics being discussed at the Australian Institute of Criminology's National Outlook Symposium on Crime in Australia to be held in Canberra, 22-23 March 1999.