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Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

Keywords: binomial regression.


The data give the number of deaths in prison custody in Australia in each of the six years 1990 to 1995, given separately for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (indigenous) and others (non-indigenous).

Variable Description

Year1990 through 1995
IndigenousYes = Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, No = Non-indigenous
PrisonersTotal number in prison custody
DeathsNumber of deaths in prison custody
PopulationAdult population (15+ years)

The data were collected in response to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the final report of which was tabled in the Federal Parliament on the 9 May 1991.

The report of the Royal Commission has two streams. One is concerned with the ninety-nine Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody which occurred throughout Australia during the period 1 January 1980 to 31 May 1989. Issues around the causes of death, culpability of custodians and their employers, and the prevention of future deaths were addressed in depth. The second stream concerned what the Royal Commission called the ‘underlying issues’: the social, cultural, and legal factors which, in the view of the Commissioners, had some bearing on the deaths. These underlying issues, as revealed from the chapter headings of the Royal Commission’s National Report, included the Legacy of History, Aboriginal Society Today, Relations With the Non-Aboriginal Community, The Harmful Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs, Schooling, Employment, Unemployment and Poverty, Housing and Infrastructure, Land Needs, and Self-determination.

The link between the Royal Commission’s discussion of the individual deaths investigated, the prevention of future deaths and the underlying issues, is its position on the over-representation of Indigenous people in custody in Australia. A central conclusion of the Royal Commission, illustrating this point, was as follows:

The work of the commission has established that Aboriginal people in custody do not die at a greater rate than non-Aboriginal people in custody.

However, what is overwhelming different is the rate at which Aboriginal people come into custody, compared with the rate of the general community ... The ninety-nine who died in custody illustrate that over-representation and, in a sense, are the victims of it.

The conclusions are clear. Aboriginal people die in custody at a rate relevant to their proportion of the whole population which is totally unacceptable and which would not be tolerated if it occurred in the non-Aboriginal community. But this occurs not because Aboriginal people in custody are more likely to die than others in custody, but because the Aboriginal population is grossly over-represented in custody. Too many Aboriginal people are in custody too often (Johnston, 1991, Vol 1, p6).


Data file (tab-delimited text)


Indigenous deaths in custody 1989 - 1996 / a report prepared by the Office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Canberra, 1996.


> p <- Deaths/Prisoners
> glm.deaths <- glm(p~Indigenous*Year,family="binomial",weights=Prisoners)
> anova(glm.deaths,test="Chi" )
Analysis of Deviance Table

Binomial model
Response: p

Terms added sequentially (first to last)
Df        Deviance   Resid. Df Resid.      Dev   Pr(Chi)
NULL            11 16.45645
Indigenous       1 2.740514        10 13.71594 0.0978333
Year             1 4.700794         9  9.01515 0.0301487
Indigenous:Year  1 1.259585         8  7.75556 0.2617297



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