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Report shows rise in deaths in custody

A 41-year-old Aboriginal man has been found unresponsive at Albany Regional Prison in WA.

A 41-year-old Aboriginal man has been found unresponsive at Albany Regional Prison in WA. Photo: AAP

The number of people who died in custody in Australia over the past 12 months has risen compared to the year before, new data shows.

Some 106 deaths were recorded in 2021/22, up by 23 from the 2020/21 reporting period, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) said.

Of those who died, 24 were Indigenous people and 81 were non-Indigenous, with the status of one deceased person unknown, according to National Deaths in Custody Program data released late on Monday.

Some 84 of the deaths were in prison custody and the median age of the inmates was 54.5 years. Eighty were male prisoners and four were female.

Of those, 16 were Indigenous people and 68 were non-Indigenous.

“Natural causes and hanging deaths were the most common causes of death for Indigenous deaths in prison custody,” the AIC said on Monday.

“Most non-Indigenous deaths in prison custody were due to natural causes.”

The largest number of deaths in prison custody happened in NSW (34 deaths) followed by Victoria (28) and Western Australia (13).

There were nine deaths in prison custody in Queensland, six in South Australia, two in Tasmania, and one each in the Northern Territory and the ACT.

The other 22 deaths occurred in police custody and custody-related operations. Eight of these were Indigenous people and 13 were non-Indigenous.

The largest number of deaths in police custody occurred in NSW, with nine deaths.

This was followed by Queensland with six deaths, Victoria with five deaths and WA and SA, with one death each.

There were no deaths in police custody in Tasmania, the NT or the ACT.

Of the 22 deaths in police custody, 20 were men and two were women. The median age was 39.5 years

Eighteen of the 22 deaths in police custody were category 1 deaths that happened during close police contact. This includes deaths in police stations and police shootings and raids.

The remaining four deaths in police custody were category 2 that occurred without close police contact during incidents such as motor vehicle pursuits or sieges.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprise three per cent of the Australian population but made up 32 per cent of the average prisoner population in the June quarter 2022.

In the 31 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the National Deaths in Custody Program has recorded 516 Indigenous deaths in custody.

This includes 335 deaths in prison, 177 in police custody or custody-related operations and four in youth detention.

The highest number of Indigenous deaths in prison custody in 2021/22 occurred in NSW, with five deaths. There were four Indigenous deaths in prison in Queensland, three in WA, two in SA and one each in Victoria and the NT.

Of the 16 Indigenous deaths in prison, 15 were men and one was a woman.

Their median age was 43 years and most had been incarcerated for a violent offence.

The manner in which they died was recorded for nine of the 16 Indigenous deaths in prison custody. Of these, five were due to natural causes and four deaths were due to self inflicted hangings and related complications.

All Indigenous deaths in police custody in 2021/22 were men, with a median age of 27 years.

Three of the deaths were due to accident or misadventure following foot pursuits, two were justifiable homicides and one was self-inflicted. Gunshot wounds were the cause of death for the two justifiable homicides.

– AAP

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