Australian Institute of Criminology

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New report shows deaths in custody on the decline

Media Release

01 May 2009

The trend in recorded deaths in prisons has significantly declined since 1997 and there is also a long-term decline in deaths occurring in police custody, according to the 2007 Deaths in Custody in Australia report released by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC).

The report provides an analysis of data captured nationally through the National Deaths in Custody Program (NDICP), which was established in 1980 and has been coordinated by the AIC since 1992.

Dr Judy Putt, General Manager, Research at the AIC, said the report found 74 deaths occurred in prison, police and juvenile custody in 2007, an increase of 19 over the 2006 figure of 55 deaths.

"Of the 74 deaths in custody, 45 occurred in prisons and of those, 32 were from natural causes, an increase of 11 from 2006 figures," Dr Putt said.

"This increase in natural deaths in prison custody reflects the ageing of Australia's prison population."

The 29 deaths occurring in police custody was an increase of six over the 2006 figure. Category 1 deaths, which include those in institutional settings, raids and shootings, have been on the decline since 1990, while Category 2 deaths involving sieges and pursuits have been declining since 2002.

Dr Putt said the long-term rates of death for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous prisoners were also found to have declined significantly since the mid 1990s.

"The proportion of Indigenous to non-Indigenous deaths in police custody dropped to one-in-ten deaths in 2007, its lowest point since 2001," Dr Putt said.

"The report also showed the smallest proportion of self-inflicted deaths in prison and the smallest number of hangings in custody since the program's establishment in 1980."

Dr Putt said the report showed some positive findings, with evidence of long-term declines which would prove useful for correctional services, police and policy makers in monitoring trends for these deaths.

AIC media contact: Scott Kelleher, Tel: 02.6260 9244; m: 0418 159525.