Australian Institute of Criminology

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Deaths in custody in Australia : 1990-2004

Media Release

12 May 2006

'The National Deaths in Custody Monitoring Program is a valuable program which enables continued monitoring of all deaths in custody across Australia', said the Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, Dr Toni Makkai, on the release of the research paper, Deaths in custody in Australia: 1990-2004.

The paper, released today, focuses on the deaths in custody in the 15 years since the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC).

Its importance is demonstrated by the finding that there has been a decline in deaths in police custody since the RCIADIC, and in adult prisons since 1999. Compared with the period 1980-1989 in which the majority of deaths in custody occurred in police custody, since 1990 the overall majority of all deaths in custody have been prison custody deaths.

Since 1990 there have been 772 deaths in adult correctional facilities, of which 19 percent involved Indigenous prisoners. Since 1999 the rates of death for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous prisoners have become similar and show a downward trend.

Hanging deaths and natural causes have consistently been the most common causes of death in prison since 1990.

Deaths in police custody have decreased since 1990 when they peaked at 25 deaths, falling to nine in 2004. In contrast, deaths during police operations have increased, and constituted over one half of all police related deaths since 1990.

Since 1990 the majority of deaths during police operations involved male, non-Indigenous persons over half of whom died due to external and/or multiple trauma injuries sustained during motor vehicle pursuits.