Prison custody

Deaths in prison custody by jurisdiction, 1979–80 to 2014–15 (n)

Note: Trends in jurisdiction deaths may fluctuate markedly due to the small numbers of deaths

Note: For total number of deaths per jurisdiction since 1979–80 to 2014–15, see Appendix Table 1

Source: AIC NDICP 1979–2015 [computer file]

Since 1979–80, 1,600 deaths have occurred in Australian prisons.

In 2014–15, 61 deaths occurred in prison custody—an increase from 54 deaths in 2013–14.

Deaths in prison custody, 1981–82 to 2014–15 (rate per 100 prisoners)

Note: Rate per 100 prisoners at 30 June of financial year

Note: Rates are calculated from 1981–82 as prison population data are not available for 1979–80 and 1980–81

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2015 [computer file]

Since 1981–82 rates of deaths in custody in Australian prisons have fluctuated. The highest recorded death rate occurred in 1997–98 (0.44 per 100 prisoners) and the lowest in 2005–06 (0.11 per 100).

The rate of prison custody deaths in 2014–15 was 0.17 per 100 prisoners, similar to rates recorded in the previous three years.

For deaths in prison custody rates by jurisdiction, see Appendix Table 2.

Deaths in prison custody by Indigenous status, 1981–82 to 2014–15 (rate per 100 prisoners)

Note: Rate per 100 prisoners on an average day for 2013-14 and 2014-15 financial years

Note: Rates are calculated from 1981–82 as prison population data are not available for 1979–80 and 1980–81

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2015 [computer file]

From 1979–80 to 2014–15, 277 Indigenous people died in prison custody, accounting for 17 percent of all prison deaths. In 2014–15 the number of Indigenous deaths in prison custody (n=15) was the highest recorded since 1979–80, comprising a quarter of all prison deaths (25%) for this year.

The rates of Indigenous deaths in custody from 2001–02 were half or less the rates recorded in previous years. Since 2003–04 rates of Indigenous prison deaths have been consistently lower than rates of non-Indigenous prison deaths.

For non-Indigenous prisoners, the rate of prison deaths has shown an overall decline, with a small but steady increase since 2005–06.

Deaths in prison custody by gender, 1981–82 to 2014–15 (rate per 100 prisoners)

Note: Rate per 100 prisoners on an average day for 2013–14 and 2014–15 financial years

Note: Rates are calculated from 1981–82 as prison population data are not available for 1979–80 and 1980–81

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2015 [computer file]

Trends in male prison death rates have generally remained consistent, although there was a clear decrease between 1997–98 (0.42 per 100 prisoners) and 2005–06 (0.12 per 100 prisoners).

Trends in female prison death rates have fluctuated markedly due to the small numbers of deaths. Female rates have generally been lower for the ten years to 2014–15.

In 2014–15 the male prison death rate was 0.19 per 100 male prisoners and for females it was 0.04 per 100 female prisoners.

Deaths in prison custody by age category, 1981–82 to 2014–15 (rate per 100 prisoners)

Note: Rate per 100 prisoners at 30 June of financial year

Note: Rates are calculated from 1981–82 as prison population data are not available for 1979–80 and 1980–81

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2015 [computer file]

The median age of prisoners who died in prison custody during 2013–14 and 2014–15 was 54 years. Prisoners aged 55 years and over had the highest rates of death for each year since 1981–82. In 2014–15 the rate was 1.19 per 100 prisoners. Rates of death were much lower among younger age groups and have showed greater consistency.

Deaths in prison custody by legal status, 1981–82 to 2014–15 (rate per 100 prisoners)

Note: Rate per 100 prisoners at 30 June of financial year

Note: Excludes 16 cases where legal status was not recorded

Note: Rates are calculated from 1981–82 as prison population data are not available for 1979–80 and 1980–81

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2015 [computer file]

Rates of death among the unsentenced (remand) prisoner population have varied greatly since 1981–82. From 1997–98 rates of prison death among unsentenced persons declined before levelling out since 2005–06. Similar death rates were recorded for sentenced and unsentenced prisoners in 2013–14—0.18 vs 0.16 per 100 prisoners.

Rates of prison death among sentenced persons have followed a more stable pattern, remaining lower than 0.30 per 100 prisoners.

Deaths in prison custody by cause of death, 1979–80 to 2014–15 (n)

Note: External trauma includes head injuries and gunshot wounds

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2015 [computer file]

The most common cause of death in custody among Australian prisoners is natural causes (46%; n=727). Hanging is the next most common cause of death (36%; n=565).

For each year since 2001–02 prison deaths resulting from natural causes have exceeded hanging deaths. The proportion of natural cause deaths increased by 71 percent from 2001–02 to 2014–15 whereas the proportion of hanging deaths declined by 33 percent.

Deaths in prison custody by select cause of death and Indigenous status, 1979–80 to 2014–15 (n)

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2015 [computer file]

The most common cause of death for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous prisoners is natural causes. This has been the case since 2002–03 for Indigenous prisoners and 2003–04 for non-Indigenous prisoners.

In 2014–15 a larger proportion of hanging deaths occurred among non-Indigenous prisoners (26%; n=12) than Indigenous prisoners (17%; n=2).