Australian deaths in custody, 1980-1989. 2. Causes

Med J Aust. 1993 Nov 1;159(9):581-5.


Objective: To assess the causes of death for people in police or prison custody in Australia, with particular attention to the differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal deaths.

Design, setting and participants: Retrospective collection and analysis of data about deaths occurring in police or prison custody in Australia in the 10-year period 1980-1989.

Results: In the period 1980-1989, 527 deaths are known to have occurred in police or prison custody. About half these deaths were due to self-harmful behaviour, including hanging. The next most frequent causes of death were diseases of the circulatory system, injuries and diseases of the respiratory system.

Conclusion: The high number of deaths in custody resulting from self-harmful behaviour has important implications for the criminal justice and corrections systems. Minimisation of the number of people held in police and prison custody is important in preventing such deaths. Close attention needs to be paid to ensuring the safety of lock-ups and prisons and to the screening of people likely to be at risk of death from self-harmful behaviour. Custodial authorities have a clear responsibility to provide quality preventive and clinical health services to all people in custody. Special attention needs to be directed to the specific health needs of Aborigines, many of whom are at much greater health risk than are non-Aborigines.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality
  • Cause of Death
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mortality
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander*
  • Police*
  • Prisoners*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Wounds and Injuries / mortality