Aboriginal deaths in custody

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Aboriginal deaths in custody became an issue of community concern in Australia because of a widespread perception that a disproportionate number of Indigenous Australians had died in jail after being arrested by police or otherwise convicted of offences. 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 allegations. The Royal Commission concluded that the deaths were not due to police violence.[1]


The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was set up in 1987 to investigate allegations made in relation to deaths of Australian Aboriginal people 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".[1]

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.[citation needed]

The issue has recently surfaced again in the 2004 Palm Island death in custody controversy, and the death of Western Australian elder Mr Ward in a prisoner transport in 2008.[2]

The ABC News24 reported on 17 September 2012 that an Aboriginal death in custody in January 2012 was, according to a judge, preventable.[3] An inquest into the death in custody of an Aboriginal man took place in the Coroner's Court in Alice Springs, the Northern Territory, in June 2012.[4][5]The AIC report shows that most of these deaths were due to natural causes like cancer and heart conditions. Previously self-harm was the leading cause of deaths in custody. "Prisons need to be aware of the health needs of older prisoners and to make sure that they're addressed to obviously prevent deaths," Dr Tomison said.

Notable incidents[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "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. 
  2. ^ "Aboriginal Legal Service 'flabbergasted' by death in custody decision". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2010-06-28. Retrieved 23 November 2011. 
  3. ^ http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/series/2932730][dead link]
  4. ^ ABC News: Aboriginal death in custody inquest begins, 12 June 2012.
  5. ^ Aboriginal death in custody inquest begins for Kwementyaye Briscoe
  6. ^ P. N. Grabosky, (1989), Wayward governance: illegality and its control in the public sector, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra ISBN 0 642 14605 5

External links[edit]

Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

See also[edit]