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Indigenous Deaths in Custody: Chapter 2 Profile: Indigenous Deaths in Custody: Chapter 2 Profile: Indigenous Deaths in Custody

Indigenous Deaths in Custody

 

Part B - Statistical Analysis

Chapter 2. Indigenous Deaths in Custody
Chapter 3. Comparison: Indigenous and non-Indigenous Deaths in Custody
Chapter 4. Arrest and Imprisonment Rates and Most Serious Offence


Chapter 2
Profile: Indigenous Deaths in Custody

Summary

2.1 There have been 96 Aboriginal deaths in custody in the seven years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody completed its investigations.

2.2 In 1995 there were 22 Aboriginal deaths in custody, the highest number since the Royal Commission.

2.3 A change in the definition of a death in custody in 1989 means that only deaths in institutional settings, as opposed to police pursuit, can be examined when comparing the Royal Commission and post-Royal Commission periods.

2.4 The average number of institutional deaths in the Royal Commission period was 10.4. In the post-Royal Commission period it was 11.4.

2.5 The frequency of deaths in various jurisdictions has changed significantly since the Royal Commission. The proportion of deaths in New South Wales and Victoria increased while they have decreased in Western Australia.

2.6 There has been a significant decline in the proportion of deaths in police custody and an increase in deaths in prison.

2.7 In both periods the majority of deaths were the result of self-inflicted hanging and natural causes. The Report shows that deaths from these causes disclosed breaches of recommendations as serious as deaths resulting from more direct involvement by custodial officers (eg, gunshot).

Introduction

The characteristics of Aboriginal deaths in custody since the Royal Commission are profiled in this chapter.1 They are compared with the deaths in custody investigated by the Royal Commission. As noted in chapter 1, meaningful comparisons between the two periods can only be made by examining the deaths of people under arrest or detention (‘institutional settings’). The Royal Commission, except for its final death investigation, did not examine deaths in custody which occurred during ‘police pursuit’ (eg, police car chases and shootings).

1. Year

The number of Aboriginal deaths in custody from 1980 to 1989 (nine years and five months) are presented in Table 2.1a. These deaths were investigated by the Royal Commission. There were 98 deaths in institutional settings, which represents a mean of 10.3 deaths a year. 2

The number of deaths in the seven years since the Royal Commission are presented in Table 2.1b. There were 79 deaths in institutional settings. This represents a mean of 11.3 deaths a year. If deaths from police pursuit are included, the number of deaths rises to 96, with an annual mean of 13.7 deaths. 3

There is a considerable year-to-year variation in the number of deaths with the highest number of deaths in institutional settings occurring in 1987 and in 1995 (20 and 17).

Table 2.1a Royal Commission Table 2.1b Post-Royal Commission

Deaths in Custody

Deaths in Custody

Year

Institutional Setting

Police Pursuit

Total

Year

Institutional Setting

Police Pursuit

Total

1980

11

na

11

1989b

9

-

9

1981

6

na

6

1990

8

4

12

1982

8

na

8

1991

12

1

13

1983

11

na

11

1992

6

3

9

1984

6

na

6

1993

9

1

10

1985

9

na

9

1994

12

2

14

1986

9

na

9

1995

17

5

22

1987

20

na

20

1996c

6

1

7

1988

14

na

14

       
1989a

4

1

5

       
Total

98

1

99

Total

79

17

96

a = January to May 1989
b = June to December 1989
c = January to May 1996

Figure 2.1 Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

Fig 2.1 Aboriginal deaths in custody

2. Gender

Table 2.2 presents the deaths in the Royal Commission period and post Royal Commission period separately for males and females. In both periods the proportion of women was relatively small (RC=10, 7.5 per cent; post-RC=7, 9.5 per cent). No significant difference was found in the proportion of males and females in the Royal commission period and the post-Royal Commission period. 4

Table 2.2 Gender
Gender

RCIADIC

Post-RCIADIC

Male

88

70

Female

10

9

Total

98

79

3. Age

Table 2.3 presents the age distribution of Aboriginal people who died in custody in the two periods. The mean age of Aboriginal people who died in institutional settings in the Royal Commission period was 31.7 years. The mean age of people who died in institutional settings after the Royal Commission was 30.2 years. The difference in age is not significant. 5

Table 2.3 Age

Years

RCIADIC

Post-RCIADIC

 

Institutional

All

Institutional

All

0-14

1

1

1

5

15-19

12

12

10

17

20-24

14

14

21

22

25-29

22

23

12

13

30-34

18

18

11

12

35-39

6

6

10

10

40-44

13

13

5

6

45-49

2

2

4

5

50-54

2

2

3

4

55-59

5

5

0

0

Over 60

3

3

2

2

Total

98

99

79

96

Average

31.3

31.7

30.2

30.0

Median

29

29

28

27

4. Jurisdictions

Table 2.4 presents the number of people who died in custody in each jurisdiction in the Royal Commission period and the period after the Royal Commission. The difference in the location of deaths between the two periods is significant. 6 As table 2.4 demonstrates the largest percentage increases occurred in New South Wales (15.2 to 31.6) and Victoria (3.0 to 6.3). The percentage of deaths decreased in Western Australia (32.3 to 10.1) while Queensland remained relatively constant in both periods (27.3 to 29.1).

Table 2.4 Deaths in Custody by State and Territory

State

RCIADIC

Post-RCIADIC

 

Number

%

Number*

%

NSW

14

14.3%

25

(29)

31.6%

VIC

3

3.1%

5

(6)

6.3%

QLD

27

27.6%

23

(25)

29.1%

WA

32

32.7%

8

(15)

10.1%

SA

12

12.2%

11

(12)

13.9%

TAS

3

3.1%

1

(2)

1.3%

NT

9

9.2%

6

(7)

7.6%

Total 98

100.0%

79

(96)

100.0%

*The numbers in brackets indicate totals for all deaths in custody (institutional settings and police pursuit). Percentages are based on deaths in institutional settings. The one death from police pursuit during the Royal Commission period occurred in New South Wales.

Figure 2.2 shows the deaths in custody for each jurisdiction over the last fifteen years. Deaths from police pursuit are also shown. There is a steady upward trend in New South Wales while South Australia has shown a sudden increase in the last year. In Western Australia a significant number of deaths have occurred from police car chases involving young people.

Figure 2.2 New South Wales

Fig 2.2  NSW

 

Figure 2.2 Victoria

Fig 2.2 Victoria

 

Figure 2.2 Queensland

Fig 2.2 Queensland

 

Figure 2.2 Western Australia

Fig 2.2 Western Australia

 

Figure 2.2 South Australia

Fig 2.2 South Australia

 

Figure 2.2 Northern Territory

Fig 2.2 Northern Territory

5. Custodial Authority

Table 2.5 presents the deaths in police custody, prisons and juvenile detention centres during and after the Royal Commission. Police pursuits are not included. The difference between the three forms of custody is statistically significant.7 As the Table demonstrates there has been a significant decline in the number and proportion of deaths in police custody (from 63 per cent to 23 per cent) and a corresponding increase in deaths in prisons (from 34 per cent to 76 per cent).

Table 2.4 Custodial Authority
Type

RCIADIC

Post-RCIADIC

Police

62

63%

18

23%

Prison

33

34%

60

76%

JDC

3

3%

1

1%

Total

98

100%

79

100%

The possible causes behind the change in location of deaths is discussed at various points through the Report. The most probable cause is the speedier transfer of detainees from police cells to prison once they have been arrested.8 This commendable practice is evident when the time and location of death before and after the Royal Commission are compared. During the Royal Commission period there were no deaths during the first month of prison custody. However, as Table A1 in the appendix to this chapter shows, 18 per cent of deaths in custody occurred during the first month of prison custody.

Other causes include the slight decline in police arrests and a corresponding increase in imprisonment levels for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people (see chapter 4). Safer custodial procedures in police lockups may also have contributed to the reduction in the numbers of deaths.

Figure 2.5 shows trends in deaths in custodial authority from 1980 to 1995. Police deaths in custody increased markedly in the late 1980s. They have subsequently shown a downward trend, particularly deaths in institutional settings.9 Deaths in prison showed a slightly upward trend in the 1980s but have significantly increased in the 1990s. In 1995 there were 17 Aboriginal deaths in prison.

fig 2.5 Custodial Authority 1980-1995
Figure 2.5 Custodial Authority 1980-1995

6. Causes of Death

Tables 2.6a-c present the cause of death for each custodial authority.10 Self-inflicted injury and natural causes accounted for the majority of deaths in the two periods. Table 2.6 shows the causes of death in police custody for both institutional settings and police pursuit. There has been no significant change in the causes of death.11

It is important to note that the circumstances of death resulting from natural causes were not less necessarily less serious than deaths resulting from shooting by police officers or other injuries sustained during arrest. Indeed, as Part E shows the deaths where the most number of recommendations were breached were deaths resulting from natural cause and self-harm (see for example 62NSW, 67NSW, 43QLD, 45QLD and 65WA).

Table 2.6a Causes of Deaths: Police Custody

Cause

RCIADIC

Post-RCIADIC
Self-Inflicted

23

37.1%

6*

33.3%

Natural

20

32.3%

7

38.9%

Drugs and Alcohol

7

11.3%

2

11.1%

Injury

12

19.4%

3

16.7%

Total - Institutional Settings

62

100.00%

18

100.0%

Police Pursuit - Car Chases

0

 

11

 
Police Pursuit - Gunshot/Other

1

 

6

 
Grand Total

63

 

35

 

* Includes one case of self-infliction by drug overdose.

Table 2.6b Causes of Deaths: Prison
Cause

RCIADIC

Post-RCIADIC
Self-Inflicted

10

30.3%

28

46.7%

Natural

17

51.5%

28

46.7%

Drugs and Alcohol

2

6.1%

1

1.7%

Injury

4

12.1%

3

5.0%

Total - Institutional Settings

33

100.0%

60

100.0%

 

Table 2.6c Causes of Deaths: Juvenile Detention Centres
Cause

RCIADIC

Post-RCIADIC
Self-Inflicted

1

33.3%

-

0.0%

Natural

1

33.3%

-

0.0%

Drugs and Alcohol

-

0.0%

-

0.0%

Injury

1

33.3%

1

100.0%

Total - Institutional Settings

3

100.0%

1

100.0%


Appendix

Table 2.8 

Time Spent in Prison Custody
May 1989-December 1995
Time Spent

Self-Inflicted

Natural Causes

Other

Total

 

No

%

No

%

No

%

No

%

1 day & under 1 month

8

31%

2

8%

-

-

10

18%

1 & under 6 months

12

46%

10

38%

-

-

22

40%

6 & under 12 months

3

12%

5

19%

-

-

8

15%

1 & under 4 years

2

8%

8

31%

2

67%

12

22%

Over 4 years

1

4%

1

4%

-

-

2

4%

Unknown

-

0%

-

0%

1

33%

1

2%

Total

26

100%

26

100%

3

100%

55

100%

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 Endnotes

1. There were no deaths of Torres Strait Islander people in custody.

2.With regard to deaths in institutional settings during the Royal Commission period, the Australian Institute of Criminology reports an extra two Indigenous deaths not investigated by the Royal Commission (a death in prison in 1984 and a death in police custody in 1985) and have removed another death from their list (a death in prison in 1981). These differences between data sets are not significant.

3. Deaths resulting from police pursuits include eleven car chases, three police shootings, one drowning and one death from falling of a bridge. Institutional settings for the purpose of this report includes escapees from prison or police custody. This involves one case (12NT).

4. A chi-square test of significance was conducted on this table: x2 =0.09 (,df=1 p>0.05).

5. A two tailed t-test was conducted on the age distribution for each period: t=-0.62 (df=176, p>0.05). The distribution was not normalised.

6. The difference in the number of deaths in the jurisdictions during and after the Royal Commission was tested using a x2 analysis x2=17.1 (df=6, p<0.05).

7. x2 =31.36 (df=2, p<0.05)

8. For example, Department of Corrective Services in New South Wales now takes sentenced and remanded inmates into correctional facilities on the day rather than holding them in police cells overnight: Government of New South Wales, Implementation of Government Responses to the Recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody: New South Wales Government Report, Vol.1, 1993/94 , v1, p.33. See, for example, profile 67NSW.

9. However, by July 31 1996 there have been two deaths in police custody in institutional settings.

10. The categories are slightly different from that used by the Royal Commission. Self-inflicted deaths are grouped together and some of the other categories have been collapsed. See Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, National Report, Volume 1, at p.53.

11. The difference between the causes of death in each period was tested separately for police and prisons,. The number of deaths in juvenile detention centres was too small and was thus excluded from the analysis. The results of the analysis for police were: x2 =0.05 (df=3, p>0.05). For prisons: x2 = 4.2 (df=3, p>0.05).

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A Report prepared by the

Office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner

for the

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission