A team of law students and university staff have created a new website which gives comprehensive details about deaths in custody across Australia.
The database, launched by the University of Queensland, collates information about more than 530 reported deaths and is accessible to researchers, lawyers, reporters and the general public.
The website tracks if the coroner made recommendations after the death, if the person involved was Indigenous and the specific cause of death.
Law professor Tamara Walsh said the project was designed to improve research around those deaths.
“The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended that a database be maintained to record the details of deaths that occur,” she said.
“It is important that this information be made available to researchers and members of the public in the interests of transparency.
“People in our prisons are among the most disadvantaged members of our community. If coroners’ recommendations regarding deaths in custody are not being implemented, the community should be made aware of that.”
Law graduate Ella Rooney was one of more than 20 students who volunteered to work on the project.
“I was drawn to the fact that this research is essential to making a genuine impact on policy development in this area,” she said.
“Until now, up-to-date statistics on deaths in custody in Australia have not been readily available to the public.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 27 per cent of Australia’s prison population despite representing 3 per cent of the country’s general population.
In 1991, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made 339 recommendations, yet few were implemented. Among them was a view that imprisonment should be avoided wherever possible but the number of Indigenous people in jail has continued to grow steadily.
More than 340 Aboriginal people have died in jail or police custody since the report was released.