Inquiry Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
- Inquiry Type
- Royal Commission
- 1 January 1980 - 31 May 1989
- Period of investigation
- 1987 - 1991
- Period of operation
- 10 August 1987
- Announcement date
- 21 December 1988
- Interim Report
- April 1991
- Final Report
The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was established to inquire why so many Aboriginal people die in custody and make recommendations as to how to prevent such deaths in the future. It examined the ninety-nine Aboriginal deaths in the custody of prison, police or juvenile detention centres that occurred between 1980 and 1989. The establishment of the Royal Commission followed public agitation for an inquiry, particularly from Aboriginal communities. The Inquiry considered not only the individual circumstances of each death, but also the wider social, cultural and legal factors that appeared to have a bearing on the high number of Aboriginal deaths.
The Royal Commission held public hearings and community meetings. The Inquiry conducted internal and commissioned research, received submissions and delivered issues papers.
Royal Commissions Act 1902.
Commonwealth Government of Australia.
Hearings were held in the towns where the deaths had occurred.
There were no case studies of institutions, but individual reports were prepared on all of the 99 deaths investigated.
Written submission were received from organisations and individuals, including the family members of victims.
Research and Consultation
46 papers were commissioned. The internal research unit produced 21 papers.
Public meetings were held in the communities where the deaths had occurred.
By definition there were no survivor witnesses although family and community members did testify.
The focus was on the dead rather than the institutions in which they died, but several died in juvenile justice institutions.
The Commission found that Aboriginal people died in custody at the same rate as non-Aboriginal prisoners, but they were far more likely to be in prison than non-Aboriginal people. The Royal Comission identified child removal as a significant precursor to these high rates of imprisonment.
The Inquiry made 339 recommendations. The report recommended that imprisonment only be a last resort. The report also included recommendations for the calling of medical assistance if the condition of detainee deteriorates; greater collaboration with Indigenous communities; improved access to records; and more broadly, to initiate a process of reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.
- Johnston, Elliott, Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, National Report, 5 vols, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1991. Also available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/rciadic/. Details
- Regional and Individual Case Reports, 1991. Also available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/rciadic/. Details
- Muirhead, JH, Interim Report: Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, National Report, vol. 1 of 1, Australian Government Public Service, Canberra, 1988. Details
- National Archives of Australia, Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody- Fact Sheet 112. Also available at http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/fact-sheets/fs112.aspx. Details
- D. Biles and D. McDonald (eds), Death in custody Australia, 1980-1989: The research papers of the criminology unit of the royal commission into aboriginal deaths in custody, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, 1992. Details
- The 25th Anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 15 April. Also available at http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/FlagPost/2016/April/RCADIC-25. Details
Acknowledgement: this summary was prepared by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University