Aboriginal incarceration rates hitting crisis levels

THE number of Aboriginal people dying behind bars is again on the rise, a new report shows.

The National Deaths in Custody Program Monitoring Report, compiled by the Australian Institute of Criminology, found the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody had risen in recent years.

Fifteen indigenous prisoners died in custody in 2008/09, 20 in 2009/10 and 21 in 2010/11.

The report also highlighted the "over-representation" of Aboriginal people in Australia's prisons, adding it was at " the heart of the problem".

Aborigines comprise more than a quarter of the prison population and accounted for 25% of all deaths in 2010/11.

The AIC said reducing indigenous prisoner numbers was essential in addressing deaths in custody.

Encouragingly, indigenous people were less likely to die in prison in 2010-11 (0.16 per 100) than non-indigenous people (0.22 per 100).

Overall the number of deaths in custody from natural causes has increased.

And over the past three financial years the total numbers of deaths in custody have remained stable, ranging between 80 and 86 deaths each year.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said while the statistics were encouraging, the recent trend in Aboriginal deaths was concerning.

"Twenty years after the landmark Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the rates of deaths in custody for indigenous and non-indigenous prisoners, particularly suicides, are some of the lowest recorded," Mr Dreyfus said.

"(But) In the 20 years since the Royal Commission, the number of indigenous prisoners has almost doubled and it is deeply concerning that the actual number of indigenous deaths in prison is rising again."

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