Indigenous deaths in custody rises to 516 since the 1991 royal commission, report says

The Australian Institute of Criminology’s annual report shows 106 people died in custody between July 2021 and July 2022, with 16 of those being of Indigenous descent

Australia recorded 106 deaths in custody between July 2021 and June 2022, with the number of Indigenous people who died in custody rising to 516 in the 31 years since the royal commission.

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology’s annual report on deaths in custody, released on Monday, the death rate of prisoners increased from 0.15 per 100 prisoners in 2020-21 to 0.21 in 2021-22.

Sixteen of the people who died were Indigenous people in prison custody. The largest number was in New South Wales with five, four in Queensland, three in Western Australia, two in South Australia and one each in the Northern Territory and Victoria. Eight deaths were recorded in police custody.

Four of the 16 people who died in custody had yet to be sentenced, with the median time in custody one month and 15 days.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 3% of the population, but comprise 32% of the average daily Australian prisoner population, the report stated.

The death rate of Indigenous prisoners was 0.12 per 100 Indigenous prisoners, or 2.96 per 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population aged 18 years and over. This was up from 0.09 and 2.28, respectively.

Overall 23 more Indigenous and non-Indigenous people died in custody in 2021-22 compared with the previous year. Eighty-four of the people who died were in prison custody, and 22 in police custody.

Natural causes and suicide were the most common causes of death among Indigenous people who died in prison custody, while most non-Indigenous deaths were due to natural causes.

Of the 516 recorded Indigenous people who died in custody since 1991, 335 were in prison, 177 in policy custody and four in youth detention.

The 1991 royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody found that Indigenous people were no more likely to die in custody than non-Indigenous people but were significantly more likely to be arrested and imprisoned. The AIC said that is still the case 31 years later.

The AIC was spurred to speeding up reporting on deaths in custody last year. In addition to the annual report, it now provides a quarterly dashboard on deaths in prison and police custody. Although the lack of reliable statistics was a recurring theme in the 1991 royal commission, the AIC had previously only reported on deaths in custody every few years.

The deputy director of the AIC, Dr Rick Brown, said the institute was committed to criminological research into Indigenous overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.

In 2018 Guardian Australia created the Deaths Inside database to track all known Aboriginal deaths in custody because real-time information had been so hard to find.


Josh Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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