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Nearly a quarter of all Aboriginal people that died in police custody were suspected of committing a ‘good order offence’, such as alcohol related offences, disorderly conduct or unpaid fines.
By
Aaron Fernandes

Source:
NITV News
15 Apr 2021 - 11:36 AM  UPDATED 15 Apr 2021 - 11:36 AM

Over the past thirty years, more than half of all Aboriginal people that have died in police custody were apprehended for low-level offences, statistics contained in the Australian Institute of Criminology’s (AIC) most recent annual report reveal.

In the thirty years from 1989-90 to 2018-19, the AIC recorded 858 deaths in police custody, including 168 Aboriginal deaths in police custody.

Among the 168 Aboriginal deaths in police custody, 53 or around one third were suspected of having committed a theft-related offence.

Nearly a quarter (39) of all Aboriginal people that died in police custody, were suspected of committing a ‘good order offence’, such as alcohol related offences, disorderly conduct or unpaid fines.

Over the same period, a non-Indigenous person that died in police custody was most likely to have committed a serious, violent offence (22%) followed by a theft related offence (17%).

Aboriginal people that died in police custody were also significantly younger, on average aged just 22-years-old at the times of their deaths, compared to an average age of 36 years for non-Indigenous offenders.

Western Force

The Western Australia Police Force recorded the highest number of Aboriginal deaths in police custody (51) of all states and territories over the 30 year period recorded by the AIC.

Aboriginal lives making up nearly half of all of WA’s deaths in police custody (42%), and the average number of Aboriginal deaths in police custody each year in the state has not declined since 1989, with four deaths recorded in the last reporting period.

Western Australia has seen some of Australia’s most high profile Aboriginal deaths in police custody.

In 1983, 16-year-old John Pat was beaten to death by four off-duty police officers in the northwest town of Roebourne, a case that is widely regarded as launching the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

In 2014, 22-year-old Yamatji woman Ms Dhu died in a police lockup in South Hedland while serving time for unpaid fines.

In 2019, 29-year-old Yamatji woman Joyce Clarke was shot and killed by a police officer responding to a disturbance.

The officer has since been charged with murder, and would become the first Western Australia police officer to ever be held criminally responsible for an Aboriginal death in custody if convicted.

Under the AIC’s definitions, violent offences include homicide, assault, sex offences, other offences against the person and robbery. Theft-related offences include break and enter, other theft, property damage and fraud.

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