Thursday, 8 October 2020
Law Enforcement Committee; Report
On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, I present the committee's report entitled Summary report of the 24 June 2020: public hearing on the Australian Institute of Criminology's National Deaths in Custody Program.
Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).
by leave—The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement held a hearing on 24 June 2020 into the Australian Institute of Criminology's National Deaths in Custody Program. This hearing was not part of a wider inquiry but was held consistent with section 7(1) of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Act 2010, which sets out the committee's functions.
The committee report being tabled today presents a summary of findings from the most recent annual report of the National Deaths in Custody Program, summarises the discussions of the committee's public hearings, sets out the committee's views and makes a number of recommendations. This inquiry was also held against a background of wide media reporting and wide public protest. The common thought amongst those protesters was that there was a very significant increased risk of death amongst Indigenous Australians in custody as compared to non-Indigenous Australians.
However, the committee noted that, in the Australian Institute of Criminology's 2017-18 report, the rate of Indigenous prisoners' deaths in custody was 0.14 per 100 prisoners, compared to the rate of non-Indigenous prisoners' deaths of 0.18 per 100 prisoners. So, in this country, we actually have a lower rate of deaths in prison for Indigenous Australians than we do for non-Indigenous Australians, and this is the exact opposite to what many sectors in the media are reporting.
In fact, at the conclusion of the hearings, I had a discussion with Dr Rick Brown, the Deputy Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology. I asked Dr Brown to conclude. I said, 'I will ask you to agree or disagree with a couple of points.' The first was: 'The bad news is that the percentage of Indigenous prisoners in the prison population is increasing over recent years?' to which Dr Brown answered, 'Yes.' I asked: 'The good news is that the rate of deaths in custody has been decreasing and has significantly decreased since the royal commission?' Dr Brown said, 'That is correct.' I then asked: 'The majority of deaths in prison custody are due to natural causes?' Dr Bricknell answered, 'Yes.' I further asked: 'The rate of deaths in custody is lower for the Indigenous population than the non-Indigenous population?' To that, Dr Brown answered: 'That is correct too, yes.' So we have this annual report which shows the exact opposite to what many in the media are saying to the public.
We made two recommendations. The first recommendation of the committee is that copies of the National Deaths in Custody Program report be forwarded to the major media outlets accompanied by a press release with a link to the report. Such media releases should include a statement of the limitations of their research, and, in particular, that it is quantitative in nature.
The second and final recommendation is that future National Deaths in Custody Program reports on deaths on an annual period include comparisons of death rates per 100 in the broader community by age group and gender for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons with the death rates in custody, noting that this number would be usefully presented as a five-year moving average, given the small numbers noted. The reason for this recommendation is that many segments of our community and demographics in our Indigenous community actually have a higher death rate outside of prison than they do in prison.
So I am very pleased to table this report, hopefully to dismiss many of the myths that are perpetuated in our society and perpetuated by our media, that we have this much higher rate of Indigenous deaths in custody. That is simply not true. It is not true, not only for the last report but also for the last 10 years: every single year of the Australian Crime Commission's report has shown similar results. Across all states it is similar, with one exception and that is Victoria. Victoria is the only state in the nation where the rates of Indigenous deaths are higher than the rates of non-Indigenous deaths. Outside of Victoria they are lower, and overall, across the nation, they are much lower. I table the report.