Prison custody

Deaths in prison custody by jurisdiction, 1979‑80 to 2016‑17 (n)

Note: For total number of deaths per jurisdiction since 1979‑80, see Appendix Table 1

Source: AIC NDICP 1979–2017 [computer file]

Since 1979‑80, 1,757 deaths have occurred in Australian prisons.

In 2016‑17, 74 deaths occurred in prison custody—a decrease from 83 deaths in 2015–16.

Deaths in prison custody, 1981‑82 to 2016–17 (rate per 100 prisoners)

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2017 [computer file]

In 2016‑17, the death rate decreased from 0.21 to 0.18 per 100 prisoners. The 2016‑17 death rate was 55 percent lower than its peak in 1997–98 (0.40 per 100 prisoners). Death rates of prisoners notably decreased from 1997–98 to 2005‑06 (0.40 to 0.11 per 100).

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

Deaths in prison custody by Indigenous status, 1981‑82 to 2016‑17 (rate per 100 prisoners)

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2017 [computer file]

Since 1979‑80, 312 Indigenous people died in prison custody, accounting for 18 percent of all prison deaths. In 2016‑17, 16 Indigenous people died in prison custody, accounting for 22 percent of all prison deaths for this year.

The rates of Indigenous deaths in custody from 2001–02 were notably lower than 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 number of deaths in prison custody by Indigenous status, see Appendix Tables 3 and 4.

Deaths in prison custody by gender, 1981‑82 to 2016‑17 (rate per 100 prisoners)

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2017 [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 (0.11 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 11 years to 2016‑17.

In 2016‑17 68 males and six females died in prison custody, although the rates were the same (0.18 per 100 prisoners).

For number of deaths in prison custody by Indigenous status and gender, see Appendix Table 5.

Deaths in prison custody by age category, 1981‑82 to 2016‑17 (rate per 100 prisoners)

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2017 [computer file]

The median age of prisoners who died in prison custody during 2016‑17 was 54 years. Prisoners aged 55 years and over had the highest rates of death for each year since 1981‑82. In 2016‑17 the rate was 1.14 per 100 prisoners. Rates of death were much lower among younger age groups and have showed greater consistency.

For number of deaths in prison custody by age category, see Appendix Table 6.

Deaths in prison custody by legal status, 1981‑82 to 2016‑17 (rate per 100 prisoners)

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2017 [computer file]

The death rate of sentenced prisoners in 2016‑17 was 0.19 per 100 prisoners. The death rate of unsentenced prisoners was 0.15 per 100 prisoners.

For the last 12 years, death rates of unsentenced prisoners have been relatively similar to death rates of sentenced prisoners, largely due to a notable decrease in the death rate of unsentenced prisoners from 1997–98 to 2005‑06 (1.15 to 0.11 per 100). Prior to this, death rates of unsentenced prisoners were generally much higher than death rates of sentenced prisoners, at an average ratio three to one.

For number of deaths in prison custody by legal status, see Appendix Table 7.

Deaths in prison custody by cause of death, 1979‑80 to 2016‑17 (n)

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2017 [computer file]

The most common cause of death in custody among Australian prisoners for the period 1979‑80 to 2016‑17 was natural causes (48%; n=829). Hanging was the next most common cause of death (34%; n=590). For each year since 2001–02 prison deaths resulting from natural causes have exceeded hanging deaths.

Deaths in prison custody by select cause of death and Indigenous status, 1979‑80 to 2016‑17 (n)

Source: AIC NDICP 1981–2017 [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 2016‑17, the rate of death from natural causes was higher for non-Indigenous prisoners compared with Indigenous prisoners (0.12 vs 0.08 per 100), while the rate of death due to hanging was similar across the two groups (0.03 vs 0.04 per 100 respectively).