The following section contains detailed information on deaths in both prison and police custody and custody-related operations since the program commenced. This information also presents, for the first time, data specifically relating to deaths occurring during police pursuits and shooting deaths in police custody.
The most recent statistics for New South Wales, produced by the Department of Corrective Services, states that there were 17 deaths in custody during 2004/5. While 6 deaths arose from natural causes, the other 11 were a result of "unnatural" causes.
In Australia in 2004 alone there were 39 deaths in prison custody and 28 in police custody and custody-related operations. In total, 14 deaths were of Indigenous persons and 15 deaths resulted from hanging. One of the hanging deaths was of an Indigenous person. Eight deaths occurred during vehicle pursuits and another 6 deaths resulted from police shootings. All of the police shootings were assessed on review as justifiable homicide and all involved persons who had committed violent offences immediately prior to the shooting. The total number of deaths in custody is the lowest recorded since 1992.
The following information presents statistics on deaths in custody in Australian states and territories for the 2004 calendar year. The report provides comparisons by jurisdiction and Indigenous status. Key findings were that:
Sixty-seven deaths occurred in custody in 2004 (39 in prison custody and 28 in police custody and custody-related operations).
Fourteen deaths were of Indigenous persons (7 in each of prison and police custody).
There were 14 hanging deaths (one Indigenous) in prison and 1 hanging death (non-Indigenous) in police custody.
Eight deaths occurred during motor vehicle pursuits (2 Indigenous) and six deaths resulted from police shootings (all non-Indigenous).
Violent offences were the most common offence committed immediately prior to the final period of custody in both prison and police custody and custody-related operations.
Prison Deaths: 19802004
A total of 1,095 deaths have been recorded in prison custody since 1980.
Non-Indigenous deaths have consistently outnumbered Indigenous deaths each year.
Despite some fluctuations in rates of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous deaths since 1982, the rates of death for both have become more similar since 1999 and both have begun to trend downward since 1999.
Hanging and natural causes have generally been the most common causes of death over this period.
Police Deaths: 19902004
The numbers of deaths in police custody and custody-related operations have remained relatively constant between 1990 and 2004.
Non-Indigenous deaths have been consistently greater than Indigenous deaths each year.
The numbers of deaths each year from hanging have fluctuated between zero and six.
The most common cause of death since 2000 has been external/multiple trauma.
Accidents have generally been the most common manner of death each year.
There have been 127 deaths during motor vehicle pursuits recorded between 1990 and 2004.
Current NDICP Dataset
The current data set of the NDICP covers a 25-year period, from 1980 to 2004. The data set contains details relating to 1,766 individual custodial deaths that include:
655 deaths in police custody and custody-related police operations;
1,095 deaths in prison custody; and
16 juvenile detention and juvenile welfare deaths.
The majority of deaths recorded in the NDICP are of non-Indigenous persons (n=1,425), with Indigenous persons accounting for approximately 19 per cent of all custodial deaths (n=341).
A total of 39 deaths occurred in prison custody in Australia in 2004. This figure is the same as that for 2003. Across the jurisdictions:
New South Wales recorded 14 deaths;
Western Australia recorded eight deaths;
Queensland recorded seven deaths;
Four deaths were recorded in both South Australia and Victoria;
One death was recorded in both Tasmania and the Northern Territory; and
No deaths were recorded in the ACT.
Comparisons with the Overall Prison Population
There were 24,171 prisoners in Australia in 2004 and, of these, 21 per cent (n=5,048) were Indigenous (ABS 2005).