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A major review of deaths in custody has found a substantial increase in the number of Aboriginal people dying in custody over the past five years.
The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) study found the overall rate of deaths in state and territory prisons has remained relatively steady over the past 20 years, but there has been a spike in the number Indigenous deaths in custody since 2005, in line with an almost doubling of the number of Aboriginal Australians being locked up. The findings come two decades after the landmark Royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. Around 30,000 people are behind bars, and Indigenous inmates account for a quarter of the prison population but only 2% of the general population.
The National deaths in custody program monitoring report has found Indigenous death-in-custody rates have decreased over the past decade but risen again recently. Most of those deaths occurred in prisons rather than other forms of custody like juvenile detention and police cells.
In 2008-09, 15 Aboriginal people died behind bars. By 2010-11, that number had risen to 21. The AIC report shows that most of these deaths were due to serious health problems like cancer, respiratory conditions and heart disease. Previously, self-harm was the leading cause of deaths in custody.
Dr Tomlison, Director of the AIC said, 'Prisons need to be aware of the health needs of older prisoners and to make sure that they're addressed to obviously prevent deaths. I guess the good news is that, and especially for the last eight years, Indigenous people in custody have been less likely to die in custody than non-Indigenous people. That said though, the number of deaths is still too high.'
Source: ABC News