• A breakdown of the then-and-now statistics relating to Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. (The Conversation)Source: The Conversation
25 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its recommendations, the rate of Indigenous deaths in prison remain relatively stagnant. Here's a breakdown of statistics, to help make sense of the nation's progress, or lack of, in this area.
Thalia Anthony

The Conversation
15 Apr 2016 - 12:53 PM  UPDATED 15 Apr 2016 - 12:53 PM

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was appointed by prime minister Bob Hawke on August 10 1987 to investigate the high rate of Indigenous deaths in custody.

At the time there was 1 Indigenous death in custody every 11 days. The commission reviewed 99 deaths between 1980 and 1989, factoring in the cause, likely reason and underlying social factors.

When the commission handed down its report on April 5 1991, it made 339 recommendations. The commissioners identified the principal and immediate explanation for the deaths in custody as being the disproportionate rate at which Indigenous people were detained, arrested and imprisoned in Australia.

Recommendation 87: Arrest people only when no other way exists for dealing with a problem. 

Recommendation 92: Imprisonment should be utilised only as a sanction of last resort. 

And while Indigenous Australians make up 27.4% of the national prison population, they make up only 2.5% of the overall population of Australia. Which means that Indigenous Australians are significantly over-represented in incarceration numbers. 

Indigenous people were 15.4 times more likely to be incarcerated in 2015 than non-Indigenous Australians. 

Young Indigenous people in juvenile detention are 74% more likely to end up in adult prisons than those who are diverted into alternative forms of rehabilitation. 

And Indigenous children are 26 times more likely to be in juvenile detention than non-Indigenous children.

Sentenced prisoners are also not the whole picture. 27% of Indigenous people in custody in 2015 were on remand - either unsentenced, unconvicted or awaiting trial.  The median time spent in remand in 2015 was 2.7 months.

And between 2014 and 2015 the rate of prisoners overall in remand rose by 21%, the highest rise in a decade. The rate of sentenced prisoners rose just 3% for the same period. 

 The Royal Commission provided a benchmark and a call to action for governments on Indigenous deaths in custody. 

But 25 years on, with an increase in the overall Indigenous population in prisons, the actual rate of deaths remains relatively stagnant. 

Article originally published on The Conversation