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Deaths in custody - 10 years after the Royal Commission

Media Release

17 April 2001

Please find information on the latest research paper from the Australian Institute of Criminology's Deaths in Custody Monitoring and Research Program, which compares deaths which occurred in the period examined by the Royal Commission and the decade since.

On 15 April 1991, the report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody (RCIADIC) was presented to governments. To commemorate the 10th anniversary of this event in 2001, the Australian Institute of Criminology is publishing a series of thematic research papers on deaths in custody. In this first paper, Deaths in Custody: 10 Years on from the Royal Commission, the number and circumstances of deaths in custody for the decade examined by the Commission are compared with those which occurred in the decade since.

The commission examined the circumstances of the deaths of 99 Indigenous persons in police or prison custody that occurred between January 1980 and may 1989. In the post-RCIADIC decade, 1990 to 1999, there were a further 628 deaths (115 of which were of Indigenous persons) in police or prison custody, and a further 190 deaths (30 of which were of Indigenous persons) during police operations. The average annual rate of death in custody for an Indigenous person decreased from 4.4 deaths per 1000,000 persons between 1980 and 1989, to 3.8 deaths per 100,000 persons between 1990 and 1999. Over this period, as a proportion of all deaths in custody or police operations, deaths of Indigenous persons decreased from 21 per cent to 18 per cent. Deaths of all persons in police custody decreased from 61 per cent of all deaths in custody between 1980 and 1989 to 18 per cent between 1990 and 1999. Conversely, over the same period, deaths in prisons increased from 35 per cent to 81 per cent of all deaths in custody.