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Indigenous Deaths in Custody: Chapter 3 Comparison: Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Deaths

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 3
Comparison: Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Deaths

Summary

3.1 Indigenous people were 16.5 times more likely than non-indigenous people to die in custody between 1990 and 1995. This rate reflects the disproportionately high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody.

3.2 The disproportion in the rate of death was the highest in South Australia (31.7) followed by Victoria (18.8), New South Wales (17.0), Queensland (16.8), Northern Territory (7.7) and Tasmania (2.8).

3.3 Indigenous prisoners were 1.26 times more likely to die in prison than non-Indigenous prisoners.

3.4 Indigenous people who died in custody are significantly younger than non-Indigenous people. The rate of death for Indigenous women in custody was higher than the corresponding rate for Indigenous men.

3.5 The proportion of deaths in police and prison custody was similar for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Approximately one-third of deaths occurred in police custody while two-thirds of deaths occurred in prison.

3.6 Deaths from police pursuit have increased for both groups while deaths in police institutional settings have declined.

3.7 Indigenous people were more likely to die from natural causes while non-indigenous people were more likely to die from gunshot and drug overdoses.

Introduction

The causes of Indigenous deaths in custody is linked to both causes behind non-Indigenous deaths in custody and special issues affecting Indigenous people. This chapter compares the characteristics of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal deaths in custody from 1990 to 1995. The Australian Institute of Criminology supplied statistics on non-Indigenous deaths in custody. As the data analysis was conducted post-Royal Commission there is no need to distinguish between deaths occurring in institutional settings and police pursuit.

1. Death Rates per General Population

Table 3.1 presents the number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous deaths in custody between 1990 and 1995. Non-Indigenous deaths rose in the early 1990s and have subsequently levelled. Indigenous deaths followed an opposite pattern.

The rate of deaths per 100,000 of the general population for each group is shown in Table 3.1. The death rate for indigenous people was 5.65 per 100,000 of the general Aboriginal population. The rate for non-Aboriginal people was 0.3. The ratio of these rates indicates that Aboriginal people were 16.5 times more likely to die in custody. This rate reflects the disproportionate numbers of indigenous people in custody, as will be discussed in chapter 4.

Table 3.1 Death Rate per General Populations
Year

Adult Populations (15yrs+)*

Deaths in Custody

Rate per 100,000

Over-
representation
  Aboriginal Non- Aboriginal Aboriginal Non-Aboriginal Aboriginal Non-Aboriginal  
1990 168317 13141817

12

54

7.1

0.4

17.3

1991 172462 13326044

13

56

7.5

0.4

17.9

1992 176827 13501987

9

58

5.1

0.4

11.8

1993 181341 13649262

10

70

5.5

0.5

10.8

1994 185836 13810095

14

66

7.5

0.5

15.8

1995 190438 13995940

22

64

11.6

0.5

25.3

Total/Average 

80

368

7.4

0.5

16.5

* Population figures supplied by the Australian Bureau of Statistics

Table 3.A1 in the appendix to this chapter divides the above figures into deaths in police and prison custody. Between 1990 and 1995, Aboriginal people were 14.7 times more likely to die in police custody and 17.4 times more likely to die in prison.

Table 3.2 presents the average death rate and over-representation rate for each jurisdiction in the period 1990 to 1995. The over-representation rate is the highest in South Australia, where Indigenous people are 31.7 times more likely to die in custody. The rate is the lowest in Tasmania and the Northern Territory. The other jurisdictions are closer to the national average.

Table 3.2 Death Rate per General Population by Jurisdiction 1990-1995
 

NSW

VIC

Qld

WA

SA

TAS

NT

ACT/Cth

Aust

Deaths  Indigenous

27

6

23

14

12

2

5

0

80

Non-Indigenous

154

84

71

30

36

16

6

5

368

Rate per 100,000 Indigenous

8.3

7.2

7.5

7.9

14.8

5.8

3.0

0.0

7.4

Non-Indigenous

0.5

0.4

0.4

0.4

0.5

0.7

1.1

0.4

0.5

Over-representation

17.0

18.8

16.8

20.5

31.7

7.7

2.8

0.0

16.5

 

2. Death Rates per Custodial Population

Table 3.3 shows the rate at which Indigenous and non-Indigenous people died in prison compared to prison populations. Table 3.2 presents the rate of death per 1000 prisoners each year. The average rate of death for the period 1990 to 1995 was 3.38 for Aboriginal people and 2.69 for non-Aboriginal people. Aboriginal prisoners are therefore 1.26 times more likely to die in prison than non-Aboriginal prisoners.

With regard to deaths in police custody, figures on police custody since 1992 are not available. The Australian Institute Criminology will shortly release figures from the 1995 Australian Police Custody Survey. They will also provide information of death rates. 1

Table 3.3 Death Rate in Prison Custody per Prison Population
Year

Prisoners

Deaths in Custody

Rate per 1000 prison population

Over- representation

 

Indigenous

Non-Indigenous

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

 
1990

2041

12264

6

27

2.94

2.20

1.34

1991

2166

12855

8

31

3.69

2.41

1.53

1992

2223

13336

2

34

0.90

2.55

0.35

1993

2416

13450

7

42

2.90

3.12

0.93

1994

2742

14302

11

42

4.01

2.94

1.37

1995

2907

14501

17

42

5.85

2.90

2.02

Total

14495

80708

51

218

3.38

2.69

1.26

3. Age

The average age of Aboriginal people who died in custody is 29.2 years. This is five and half years less than non-Aboriginal people who die in custody who have an average age of 35 years. This difference is statistically significant. 2 This figure reflects the earlier contact of Aboriginal people with the criminal justice system. 3

4. Gender

Female prisoners accounted for 11.3 per cent of Aboriginal deaths in custody but only 5.2 per cent of non-Aboriginal deaths in custody. The difference is statistically significant. 4 This is consistent with the fact that the disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal women is even greater than the disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal men in custody.

Table 3.4 Gender
 

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

Male

71

88.8%

349

94.8%

Female

9

11.3%

19

5.2%

Total

80

100.0%

368

100.0%

5. Custodial Authority

Table 3.5 illustrates that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal deaths in police, prison and juvenile detention centres occurred in the same proportion. Deaths in police custody account for 35.0 per cent of Aboriginal deaths and 39.7 per cent of non-Aboriginal deaths in custody. The figures for prison are respectively 63.8 per cent and 59.2 per cent. Juvenile detention centres account for 1.3 per cent and 1.1 per cent of deaths. The differences are not statistically significant. 5 It is important to note that there has been a shift in the types of deaths in police custody. For both groups there has been a decline in the number of deaths in institutional settings and an increase in deaths resulting from police pursuit. 6 This has consequences for recommendations concerning police arrest practices. (See chapter 6.)

Table 3.5 Custodial Authority
 

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal

 

Police
Prison

JDC

Total
Police
Prison

JDC

Total

1990

5
6

1

12
26
27

1

54

1991

5
8

-

13
25
31

-

56

1992

7
2

-

9
24
34

-

58

1993

3
7

-

10
27
42

-

69

1994

3
11

-

14
23
42

1

66

1995

5
17

-

22
21
42

2

65

Total

28
51

1

80
146
218

4

368

%

35.0%
63.8%

1.3%

100%
39.7%
59.2%

1.1%

100%

 

6. Jurisdiction

Figure 3.2 shows deaths in custody over the last six years for each jurisdiction. Indigenous and non-Indigenous deaths in custody have generally followed a similar pattern. However, in 1995 the proportion of Aboriginal deaths increased in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. In Queensland, there has been an increase in non-Aboriginal deaths in custody while Aboriginal deaths have remained relatively constant.

Figure 3.1 Deaths in Custody by State: 1990-1995

Fig 3.1 Deaths in Custody by State: 1990-1995

 

7. Cause of Death

Table 3.6 breaks down causes of death for deaths in police custody. The differences between the three principal causes of death are not statistically significant. 7 The deaths from injury generally resulted police car chases and cases where Aboriginal people were arrested under the presumption of intoxication. Non-Aboriginal people were more likely to die from self-inflicted gunshot, hanging or injury while in police custody. 

Table 3.6 Causes of Death in Police Custody
Cause

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal 8

 

No.

%

No.

%

Natural

6

22.2%

9

6.0%

Self-Inflicted        
Hanging/Injury

2

7.4%

27

18.1%

Gunshot

0

0.0%

22

14.8%

Drugs

1

3.7%

5

3.4%

Non-Self-Inflicted        
Gunshot

4

14.8%

31

20.8%

Drugs

1

3.7%

13

8.7%

Alcohol

-

0.0%

2

1.3%

Injury

14

51.9%

40

26.8%

Total

28

100.0%

149

100.0%

Table 3.7 categorises causes of death in prison. Indigenous people were more likely to die from natural causes. Non-indigenous people were more likely to die from drug overdoses and injury. 9

Table 3.7 Causes of Death in Prison
Cause

Aboriginal

Non-Aboriginal 10

 

No.

%

No.

%

Natural

24

47.1%

61

27.9%

Self-Inflicted        
Hanging/Injury

24

47.1%

105

47.9%

Non-Self-Inflicted        
Gunshot

-

0.0%

2

0.9%

Drugs

1

2.0%

25

11.4%

Alcohol

-

0.0%

1

0.5%

Injury

2

3.9%

22

10.0%

Unknown

-

0.0%

3

1.4%

Total

51

100.0%

219

100.0%

In juvenile detention centres, the cause of the sole death of an Indigenous person was injury. The cause of death for three non-Indigenous people was self-inflicted, and one person died from injury.

 


Appendix

Table 3.A1 Death Rates per General Population for Police and Prison*
* Population figures supplied by the Australian Bureau of Statistics

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ENDNOTES

  1. Dalton, V., Brown, M., and D. McDonald, Australian Deaths in Custody and Custody-related Police Operations, 1995, Deaths in Custody Australia Series, Australian Institute of Criminology, No.12, May 1996 (‘AIC, Deaths in Custody 1995, No. 12').

  2. t=3.33, df=447, p<.001. The data-set, as in section 3.6, is slightly different as the data was obtained at a later date from the AIC.

  3. See chapter 9.

  4. x2=4.16 (df=1, p<0.05).

  5. A chi-square test of significance was conducted on the total number of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal deaths between the custodial authorities: c2=0.61 (df=2, p>0.05).

  6. See AIC, Deaths in Custody 1995, No. 12, op. cit., atp.8-9.

  7. c2= 2.94 (df=2, p>0.22).

  8. These figures were obtained just prior to publication. The AIC now reports an extra three deaths in police custody.

  9. c2= 10.8 (df=2, p<0.005).

  10. These figures were obtained just prior to publication. The AIC now reports an extra death in prison custody.

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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