Indigenous unlawful arrest

Indigenous men over 23 times more likely to die in police custody: New data sheds sight on the same problem

An Indigenous man is over 23 times more likely to die in police custody, compared to his non-Indigenous counterparts, according to new data from the National Deaths in Custody Program (NDICP).

Indigenous people have long been overrepresented in the number of deaths in custody in Australia. The latest data has revealed no real progress.

The National Deaths in Custody Program

The NDICP has been keeping track of deaths in prisons, police custody, and youth detention in Australia since 1980. The Australian Institute of Criminology has been overseeing the program since 1992, which was a recommendation made by the Royal Commission.

In 2021-2022:

  • There were 106 deaths in custody in 2021-2022
  • 84 occurred in prison custody, with and 22 in police custody or custody-related operations
  • 24 of those who died were Indigenous

Deaths in police custody


Between 1989 and 2022, 928 people died while in police custody, or custody-related operations. 

New South Wales (NSW) remains the deadliest, accounting for 31 per cent of all deaths – but that figure is on par with NSW housing just over 30 per cent of Australia’s population. 

Western Australia (WA) had the highest mortality rate per capita, even though it houses only 7 per cent of the population, but accounting for over 13 per cent of all deaths in police custody.

Following closely after was the Northern Territory (NT), housing 1.76 per cent of the population but 6.36 per cent of all deaths in custody. 

The  Indigenous death rate in police custody has shown a consistent increase over the most recent three-year period.

Indigenous people more likely to die in a prison

When compared to their respective total populations, non-Indigenous persons are disproportionately overrepresented in prisons and amongst those who pass away in imprisonment.

This means that an Indigenous man in 2021-2022 was over eight times more likely to die in a prison, compared to a non-Indigenous person. 

Indigenous women were even more at risk, being 12 times more to die in prisons than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991, the NDICP has recorded 516 Indigenous deaths in custody. 

Deaths in police custody accounted for almost one quarter of deaths, while 335 of the deaths occurring in prisons. There were 4 Indigenous children who died in youth detention in the same period. 

The findings of this report bring attention to the need for continued efforts to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in deaths in custody. This includes a focus on reducing the number of Indigenous people in custody, improving the conditions in which they are held, and addressing the underlying causes of Indigenous overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.

It is crucial that steps are taken to address this critical issue and ensure the safety and well-being of Indigenous peoples in custody. The NDICP report serves as a reminder of the ongoing need for action and the importance of continuing to monitor and report on this issue.


For more information, find it directly on the AIC website.

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