Scope of Project
This project has created the first publicly available national database of deaths in custody.
All states and territories have published some coroners’ reports online, but no jurisdiction has digitised and made publicly available all of their inquest findings.
The National Coronial Information System (‘NCIS’) records data about all deaths reported to a coroner since 2001. However, the NCIS operates on a user-pay system and does not provide an easily searchable database through which deaths in custody can be isolated from other categories of inquest.
Our database responds to the lack of publicly accessible information by gathering every published report from each state and territory. The Australian Institute of Criminology (‘AIC’) provides reports on the number of deaths in custody and an analysis of trends. The AIC reports that 2044 deaths in custody occurred between 1991-2016 (https://aic.gov.au/publications/sb/sb17), but our analysis suggests that only 505 of these inquest reports are digitised and available through coroners’ websites. These 505 inquests, and those published since 2016 are included in our database.
This table shows that different jurisdictions have begun publishing coroners’ reports at different times. Consequently the commencement dates of our data are not uniform.
|Australian Capital Territory||1997 – present|
|Northern Territory||2000 – present|
|South Australia||2000 – present|
|Tasmania||2001 – present|
|Queensland||2004 – present|
|Victoria||2005 – present|
|New South Wales||2012 – present|
|Western Australia||2012 – present|
Defining 'deaths in custody'
The definition of ‘death in custody’ is not standardised across Australian jurisdictions.
We have adopted the definition used by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The Royal Commission defined deaths in custody as a death involving a person:
- who is in prison custody or police custody or detention as a juvenile;
- whose death is caused or contributed to by traumatic injuries sustained or by lack of proper care whilst in custody;
- who dies or is fatally injured in the process of police or prison officers attempting to detain that person; and
- who dies or is fatally injured in the process of that person escaping or attempting to escape from prison custody or police custody or juvenile detention.
There is no legislative requirement for coroners to state whether the deceased is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent and often, coroners do not mention whether or not the deceased was Indigenous. Thus this project’s data cannot currently establish accurate numbers of deaths in custody involving Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.
Different groups of students have contributed to this project over a period of three years; consequently, there may be small inconsistencies in the data.