Aboriginal deaths in custody
Aboriginal deaths in custody became a major issue because of a widespread perception that a disproportionate number of Indigenous Australians were dying in jail after being arrested by police. This concern was particularly acute in the 1980s, when there was a perception amongst some sections of the community that these deaths were being caused, either directly or indirectly, by the police and prison authorities.
The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was established in 1987 to investigate the problem. The Royal Commission concluded that the deaths were not due to police violence.
A large part of the problem is that a disproportionately high number of Indigenous Australians are imprisoned by the law. Contrary to popular belief, the number of Indigenous Australians who die in custody is roughly proportional to the total number who are imprisoned, compared to other ethnicities. For example, in 2009, an Indigenous Australian is 14 times more likely to be in prison than a non-Indigenous Australian, and in 2009, 25% of prisoners in Australia were Indigenous. Approximately 18% of deaths in custody in Australia between 1990 and 2007 were of Indigenous people.
A Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was set up in 1987 to investigate allegations of murder of Australian Aboriginals in prison. A central conclusion of the Royal Commission was that "the immediate causes of the deaths do not include foul play, in the sense of unlawful, deliberate killing of Aboriginal prisoners by police and prison officers".
Since the Royal Commission, the numbers of Aboriginal deaths in custody has been roughly commensurate with the fraction of prison inmates who are Aboriginal. It is now therefore not clear whether (a) there never was a widespread problem, other than one or two isolated (but nevertheless very significant) incidents, such as the Eddie Murray incident, or (b) there was once a widespread problem, but it has been cleaned up as a result of the Royal Commission.
The ABC News24 reported on 17 September 2012 that yet another Aboriginal Death in Custody in January was, according to a judge, preventable.
- "NATIONAL REPORT VOLUME 1 - CHAPTER 3 THE FINDINGS OF THE COMMISSIONERS AS TO THE DEATHS". Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. AUSTLII Reconciliation and Social Justice Library. 1998. Retrieved 2006-05-17. "A central conclusion of this chapter is that the immediate causes of the deaths do not include foul play, in the sense of unlawful, deliberate killing of Aboriginal prisoners by police and prison officers. More than one-third of the deaths (37) were from disease; 30 were self-inflicted hangings; 23 were caused by other forms of external trauma, especially head injuries; and 9 were immediately associated with dangerous alcohol and other drug use. Indeed, heavy alcohol use was involved in some way in deaths in each of these categories. The chapter concludes that glaring deficiencies existed in the standard of care afforded to many of the deceased."
- "Aboriginal Legal Service 'flabbergasted' by death in custody decision". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2010-06-28. Retrieved 23 November 2011.
- http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/series/2932730][dead link]
- P. N. Grabosky, (1989), Wayward governance: illegality and its control in the public sector, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra ISBN 0 642 14605 5
Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody