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Prison Statistics from the 1st Decade of the New Millenium

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.

2004 Results
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: 1980–2004

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: 1990–2004

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).

2004 Findings
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).


Battling for right to communication

JUST US newspaper battle

Justice Action is in the NSW Supreme Court to fight for detainees' right to information. NSW authorities refused to distribute the election special to prisoners or mental health patients. It went into five other states and territories prison systems, and all judges and MPs. Read the latest Issue.


The latest edition of JUST US – Vol 4/1, was prepared for all prisoners and patients in forensic hospitals in early March. The newspaper informs prisoners and patients of their rights and eligibility to vote, while also providing an overview of the law and order policy positions of the ALP, the Coalition and the Greens from the CJC pre-election Forum before the NSW State Election. It was made relevant to all detainees wherever they are. Despite the right of all members of the community to have access to such information before they voted, NSW authorities refused once again to distribute Just Us.

NSW Corrective Services claimed by email that they already had “adequate sources of information about the election to distribute to offenders” but prisoners stated that they received nothing at all. This refusal to distribute followed two Supreme Court cases against them for the same behaviour. They feel they are above the law. It was in breach of their obligation to detail their objection, as Justice Fullerton decided in the Haque case in 2008. In the Scheff case in 2004 they forced prisoners to vote early to avoid Justice Smart's decision. We have asked the Minister for Justice and Attorney General Greg Smith to intervene. We decided to confront with Justice Health in court.

Justice Health justified their refusal to distribute Just Us because the newspaper “contains language and content that is political in nature and as such would not be deemed suitable for distribution within any NSW health facilities.” They had no conception of patients' rights to be involved in the community! They even blocked our lawyers led by the former Commonwealth Solicitor General David Bennett AC QC from getting instructions from patients. media release

On March 22, we took our case to the NSW Supreme Court so that Just Us might be distributed to patients in NSW forensic hospitals before the state election on March 26. Justice Health offered a settlement to give the paper to "those who hadn't voted", whilst it had instructed patients to return their votes the day before! It meant not a single patient would get the paper! Justice Health wanted to mark it  "not endorsed” and would not allow it to set a precedent.  We said "no".

Justice Health has fought us at every stage. They tried to strike us out to avoid the judge. media release This is despite their statutory obligation to "care" for their patients and under s.68 of the Mental Health Act to respect patients civil liberties in the least restrictive environment. They are used to total control and give Mental Health patients less respect than prisoners as patients are more vulnerable. It will be a defining battle for what health is about.  Who is central - administrators or patients?

Constitutional notices have been given to all states and territories Attorneys General. We have offered a settlement with a protocol for future access with an independent arbitrator to decide disagreement.  In the meantime, the newspaper is being distributed to prisoners and patients in other Australian states and territories. Just Us has also been sent to all members of the judiciary and representatives in all Australian parliaments. New Zealand has said it wants its own edition and that is currently being organised.

The UK prisoners newspaper "Inside Time" Editor Eric McGraw visited Sydney and talked with JA workers on July 8. Media release

Read Just Us – NSW State Election Special here.

Check out the article on New Matilda, about JUST US.


Parole is the conditional release of selected prisoners who have already served part of their sentence.  It means prisoners can serve the remainder of their sentence in the community under the supervision of a community corrections officer.


We are currently undertaking research on the issue of Parole in NSW, in response to the NSW Law Reform Commission’s (LRC) inquiry on this matter.

JA's preliminary submission (scoping paper) to the NSW LRC is available here.

Our full submission will be available later upon completion.


There has been widespread criticism of parole in its current form. The uneducated public opinion that parole is a ‘soft option’ is mistaken. In fact, research has shown that parole has effectively increased the length of sentences in NSW.  Justice Action has recently been working on submissions to the NSW Law Reform Commission on Parole, covering several areas of public concerns regarding the current Parole system:

1.   Sentence Creep

Parole as a function has had the effect of extending prisoners’ sentences.

The Nagle Report 1982 in New South Wales provided recommendations (96 & 97) that remissions should apply to both head sentences and non-parole periods. However, remissions were completely abolished in 1989 with the introduction of Truth In Sentencing laws. Although this was established with the expectation that it would reduce the general length of imprisonment, it actually increased the average overall time people spent in prison. The community bears the monetary cost of this extended period of incarceration.

2.   Reduced crime rates not related to increased imprisonment rates

The crime rate in the last 10 years has dropped worldwide, especially in developed countries. There is a large body of academic research that asserts various social causes for recent reductions in worldwide crime rates[1]. Research shows that there is no link between reduced crime and increased gaol sentences.  The analysis provided in the studies and articles below show that higher levels of imprisonment had no correlation with a drop in crime rates. Instead, reduced crime can be linked to increasing surveillance and security technology that effectively acts as a deterrent to crime. Other factors that are linked to this reduction include a decline in heroin use, an increase in security measures and a thriving economy. [2]


Links to articles:

There is significant research supporting the argument that Prisons cause crime[a4] . Lengthy prison sentences have been shown to disrupt a person’s existing familial ties, support networks and links to housing, as well as cutting off people from their former social responsibilities and functions. It can be said that appropriate parole conditions will reduce recidivism rates significantly compared to the alternative of extended prison sentences.

3.   Positive Engagement for Prisoners:

Agreed Parole Plans

Our core proposal is the Agreed Parole Plan (APP). The APP is a negotiated agreement between the State Parole Authority (SPA) and the person at the beginning of their sentence. The idea of actively involving prisoners in their future is encapsulated in the Justice Reform Initiatives. The APP should be created with the support of Corrective Services and the involvement of the community and families in this process. An APP proposed to the SPA should be created immediately after the sentencing hearing. It would also outline the requirements that need to be fulfilled by both the person in prison and Corrective Services in order for the APP to be approved for parole. The requirements should include programs such as reconciliation with family and possibly victims as well as training for jobs or other satisfying activities. It is essential that this is supported by the Department of Corrective Services. If the person has met these requirements at the time of the parole review, parole should be approved. This aims to remove the arbitrary aspects of decision-making in parole hearings and change the focus to one of social re-integration.

The APP aims to empower and provide incentive for people to use their time in prison effectively through their engagement in the services provided in prisons. Additionally, it will establish mutual expectations and obligations between the State Parole Authority, Corrective Services, the prisoner, their family, and the community at large.

This strategy, in conjunction with Justice Action’s Justice Reform Initiatives will provide for an effective use of a prisoner’s sentence and enhance the prisoner’s ability to resettle into the community while on parole. Giving prisoners something to work towards, by setting goals, definite plans and time frames will improve the current situation and encourage a more proactive approach to parole.

4.   Community Support: The SPA

The SPA should be seen as a positive mechanism for prisoners re-entering society. A greater cross-section of the community should be represented as community members in the SPA, with a particular focus on including minority groups. This is particularly important as minorities are often over-represented within the criminal justice system, yet under-represented in society. Justice Action suggests that half the members of SPA should be appointed by the Council of Social Service New South Wales (NCOSS). Former prisoners who have successfully integrated into society could provide invaluable insight to the SPA however under the current system (where all members are recommended by the Attorney General) figures such as the former commissioner of NSW corrections (and former prison officer) Ron Woodham are allowed to represent the community in the SPA as community members, while reformed inmates are not considered.

Parole officers currently play two roles that are in conflict with one another; they not only have a supervisory/security role but are also supposed to provide a supportive function. The latter role however should be delegated to other agencies such as a mainstream NGO.

If the community has a greater involvement in the parole process, the parolee will find it easier to re-integrate into society. Consequently, the rights and benefits of the parolee must be acknowledged and clearly established to all parties involved. These rights and benefits include access to family, community support groups, and social workers. We need to begin treating people in prison as people waiting for and wanting to change. They need to be provided with adequate support for this to be effective on our community.

5.   Privacy

SPA hearings must be made private, similar to the Family or Children’s Court, ensuring that vulnerable parolees are protected during their transition back into society. Currently, the nature of Parole Board hearings allows the media to access and publicise information, much of which is negative and focused on the offender’s past. Open parole hearings cause a great deal of public censure and mistrust of the individual despite them having already expiated their guilt, served a large portion of their sentence and deemed to be ready for release. The persistent media attention essentially makes integration much harder for parolees.





[1] Paresh Kumar Narayan & Russell Smyth, (2006) Temporal causality and the dynamics of judicial appellate caseload, real income and socio-economic complexity in Australia. Applied Economics 38:19, pages 2209-2219.

Michelle W. Trawick & Roy M. Howsen, (2006) Crime and community heterogeneity: race, ethnicity, and religion. Applied Economics Letters 13:6, pages 341-345.

[2] Weatherburn, D., Jones, C., Freeman, K. and Makkai, T. (2003), Supply control and harm reduction: lessons from the Australian heroin ‘drought’. Addiction, 98: 83–91. doi: 10.1046/j.1360-0443.2003.00248.x

Australian Prisoners Union


Human rights should not end at the prison gate. Society must acknowledge that people who go to prison are also members of the community, and almost all will be released.


The APU was launched on Saturday 17 July 1999 at the Clubhouse, Jubilee Park Oval Glebe, NSW, to represent and advance the interests of people detained in prisons and hospitals. Its founding beliefs are based on the promotion of their human rights.

The APU is an organisation focused on a range of issues including:

  • Occupational health and safety
  • The right to choose or refuse services such as medical, educational and legal
  • Right to choose to smoke                      
  • Computers in cells
  • Encouragement to develop


Statements of support for the Australian Prisoners Union came from: Dorsey Nunn, Legal Services for prisoners with children, USA; Rittenhouse A New Vision, Canada; National Association of Ex-Offenders, UK; Prison Activist Resource Centre, Berkeley, USA; Prison Justice and Development program, Manila Philippines; Law Society of NSW Human Rights taskforce; Sisters Inside, QLD; Western Legal Services, VIC; Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, NSW; Community and Public Sector Union, NSW; Campaign for Equity Restorative Justice, Vermont, USA; Redfern Legal Centre Management Committee, NSW; Prisoners Legal Service, QLD; Raze the Walls, USA; The Prisoners Rehabilitation and Services Operations Foundation, Philippines; NSW Teachers Federation; Lee Rhiannon MLC, The Greens NSW; Laurie Ferguson MP, Australian Labor party and Arthur Chesterfield-Evans MLC, Democrats.

'As a prisoner I believe it is our basic human right to bring the Australian Prisoners Union to existence and to have it formally recognised and supported.' said Garnett Nuggins, an Aboriginal prisoner at Sir David Longlands Jail, QLD.

'The warmest congratulations on your initiative to establish the APU. It is indeed exciting news to hear that people who have been or are imprisoned will now have strong representation through your organisation.' said Lee Rhiannon MLC, The Greens.

If you would like to become a member of the APU please send us a membership form.

What contributions or ideas do you have that would strengthen the APU? What are your top priorities?

Tell your friends too. The bigger we are, the more work we can do.


PO Box 386, Broadway, NSW 2007       Ph: 02 9283 0123 Fax : 02 9283 0112

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.         www.apu.org.au





Aboriginal DiC 1980-1995

"Warning: Readers should note that there is mention of Aboriginal persons who are deceased. JA strives to observe cultural necessities, particularly in naming their ‘living names’.  We offer only respect for the deceased person and his/her family.

From 1st January 1980 to 27th July 1995

Peter Campbell 11.02.80 Long Bay Gaol
Thomas Carr 23.03.81 Minda Remand Centre
Eddie Murray 12.06.81 Wee Waa Watch-House
Clarrie Nean 15.08.82 Dubbo Base Hospital
Mark Revell 29.10.82 Grafton Watch-House
Malcolm Smith 05.01.83 Prince Henry Hospital
Tim Murray 31.12.83 Bowral Hospital
Bruce Leslie 06.06.85 Royal North Shore Hospital
Paul Kearney 11.07.86 Darlinghurst Watch-House
Shane Atkinson 05.10.86 Griffith Watch-House
Mark Quayle 24.06.87 Wilcannia Watch-House
Lloyd Boney 06.08.87 Brewarrina Watch-House
Peter Williams 18.11.87 Grafton Gaol
Max Saunders 28.11.88 Goulburn Training Centre
David Gundy 27.04.89 Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
David Kitson (27) 25.07.89 Long Bay Prison
Dermot Pidgeon (17) 22.10.89 Maitland Jail
Stephen Naylor (28) 25.10.89 Silverwater Jail
Michael Leslie (24) 08.01.90 Parklea Prison
Wayne Coppini (19) 30/31.05.90 Long Bay Prison
John Beck (25) 29.05.91 Lithgow Prison
Mark Nicholls (47) 10.06.91 Parklea Jail
Kevin Dixon (34) 12.06.91 Long Bay Prison
Steven Brown (23) 05.03.92 PHH ex Long Bay Prison Hospital
ex Bathurst Prison
Phyllis May (38) 10.06.92 Macquarie Fields Lockup
Richard Campbell (14) 03.07.92 North Bateman Bay
Danny Webb (?) 20.07.92 Kempsey
Anthony Cain (43) 24.11.92 Police Van near Windsor
George Hammond (64) 10.03.93 Cooma Jail
Troy Kemble (20) 26.05.93 John Moroney Correctional Centre, Windsor
Roderick Perry (33) 29.10.93 Long Bay Prison
Graham Ceiley (46) 02.11.93 Long Bay Prison
Janet Beetson (30) 03.06.94 Mulawa Prison
Anthony John Welsh (20) 19.06.94 Long Bay Prison
Michael Sainsbury (19) 14.12.94 Parklea Prison
William Brian Clark (38) 15.02.95 Broken Hill Prison
Brian Joe Ballard (20) 01.03.95 Long Bay Gaol Hospital
Adam Bessel (53) 21.04.95 Cooma Prison
Keith Donovan 26.07.95 Police Chase, Newcastle Sydney Freeway
Walter Whitton 26.07.95 Police Chase, Newcastle Sydney Freeway

Consumer Controlled Funding

The issue about who controls the services for vulnerable people is very significant.


consumer controlled

Latest news:
Productivity Commission Mental Health Inquiry 2020
Women's Justice Network Takeover 

Productivity Commission - JA Submission July 2016 Identifying Sector for Reform

The Productivity Commission in 2011 proposed the NDIS for disabled people, giving them the choice of service provider and direct control of the money. It was the person-centred approach being played out in real terms. Before the NDIS, disabled people had to beg from service providers who received funding directly from govenment. The Productivity Commission said it was "unfair and inefficient" and that when disabled people chose the services it was three times as effective.

In prisons and locked hospitals even more taxpayer money is spent for services intended to benefit those people who are isolated inside the institutions. The National Mental Health Commission said that the costs were up to $1m a person a year. For prisoners it averages $100,000. But the physical and social isolation for those in custody means that it is all wasted money as they are treated with contempt by the service providers. Health, legal and education services are theirs by right but are useless in practice. Corruption and contempt are standard whilst resting in a hot political area of major public concern.

The Our Pick Report proposed a solution. Justice Action calls upon all service providers to work with us for change.

Changing the Driver
: National Disability Insurance Scheme
Download the latest edition here.




Therapeutic Communities

Therapeutic communities with restorative justice and mentoring are effective
solutions to community problems. Our own experience of positive responses to
trust and sharing are entirely applicable in the area of crime. The Alexander
Maconochie’s Norfolk Island experience, Jimmy Boyle’s story of the Barlinnie
Unit in Scotland, and the Special Care Unit in Long Bay are documented
examples of how they work effectively.

Read more

Tribunal Hearing - Iranian Community Safety

The Mental Health Tribunal on 23 February 2018 declined a request from Mr. Dezfouli for his unconditional release and repatriation to Iran. It said that it needed to consider the safety of Iranian citizens and the adequacy of Iranian mental health services. That “any member of the public” appearing in ss43(a) and 74(d) of the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990 (MHFPA) includes members of the public of foreign countries. 

A Special Hearing has been set down in the Forensic Hospital Long Bay on May 24 to argue the law.

Tribunal's response to Saeed's request: 

To read more about Saeed's case, see Saeed Dezfouli 


Prisonless Society

IFPS - International Foundation for a Prisonless Society

The International Foundation for a Prisonless Society was established in 1991 by Ruth and Ray Morris, for the following purposes:
To support and sustain the International Conferences for Penal Abolition
To make it possible for more people with limited incomes, consumers of the system, and third world country persons to attend ICOPA (International Conferences on Penal Abolition)

If possible beyond that, to fund projects which build a climate for healing, transformative alternatives in other ways.

Read more


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Justice Action
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