Number of indigenous deaths in custody Australia 2008-2019

In 2010, a total of 22 indigenous Australians died in custody in Australia. This was the highest number of deaths in a single year between 2008 and August 2019. The number of deaths in custody appear to have reduced in the three years since 2016. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still disproportionately represented in the justice system and have poorer health outcomes than their non-Indigenous counterparts. This disparity has been recognized by contemporary Australian governments, with numerous initiatives and reports being commissioned to tackle these issues. However, to this day there remains a large gap in equality experienced by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Aboriginal incarceration rates

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report, which was published in 1991, was commissioned by the Australian Government to study the underlying issues leading to deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody. The report referred to the disproportionately high incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australian prisons and highlighted underlying social issues as well as gaps in health, life expectancy and education outcomes for Indigenous people. Despite the recommendations of the report, the rates of Aboriginal people in custody have since continued to increase and more than 430 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since 1991.

Closing the Gap

In an effort to close the gap in disadvantage for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the federal, state and territory Governments made a commitment to work together around the Closing the Gap Framework in 2008. The goal of the framework was to improve key outcomes early childhood, schooling, health, economic participation, healthy homes, safe communities, and governance and leadership. Of the seven targets listed in the framework only the early childhood education enrollment and year 12 attainment targets were considered to be on track.

Number of indigenous deaths in custody in Australia from 2008 to 2019

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Release date

August 2019



Survey time period

2008 to August 2019

Supplementary notes

Data is current to August 23, 2019

People are considered to have died in custody if they:

  • - are held in the physical or legal custody of a prison, a youth detention centre, or of police at the time of their death
  • - have died as the result of traumatic injuries sustained or lack of sufficient care provided while in custody, even if that period of custody has now ended
  • - are fatally injured in the process of attempts by police or prison officers to detain them
  • - are fatally injured while trying to escape police, prison, or youth detention custody.

Also included all deaths that are supposed to have occurred in the presence of police officers, including deaths from self-inflicted injuries. These include deaths that occurred during a welfare check by police, or attempts by police to prevent someone from committing self-harm.

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Statistics on "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia "

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