Australian Institute of Criminology
AUS: Prison Numbers Double, Suicide Numbers Triple
New figures from the National Deaths in Custody database reveal that while the number of prisoners in custody increased
by 94 per cent from 1980 to 1998, the number of deaths in custody increased by 127 per cent over the same period, with
suicide deaths in particular increasing by 240 per cent.
The paper, Suicide in Prison 1980 to 1998: National Overview, by Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) Research
Analyst, Vicki Dalton, contains preliminary analysis of suicide in Australia's prisons over the past 19 years. This
paper is No. 126 in the Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice series.
Although the number of deaths in custody dropped from 75 in 1997 to 68 in 1998, suicides remained constant at 34 for
both years - the highest figure on record.
"Suicide is the leading cause of death in Australia's correctional institutions, accounting for almost half of all
prison deaths", AIC Director, Dr Adam Graycar said today.
The National Deaths in Custody database contains a total of 1262 cases from 1980 to 1998; 787 deaths in prison custody,
461 in police custody or custody-related police operations and 14 in juvenile detention.
Prison Suicides at a Glance
Number 367 from 1980 to 1998 (46.6 per cent of all prison deaths). Method Hanging accounted for more than 90 per cent.
Gender 96.5 per cent were males. Aboriginality 14.4 per cent were Indigenous. Age Mean age: 29 years old. Day of week
More suicides occurred on a Sunday. Month More suicides occurred in January and November. Location 85 per cent were in
their cell. Offence 20 per cent were sentenced for homicide and 14.8 per cent for assault. Legal status 48 per cent were
It is estimated that while the rate of suicide in the community increased by approximately 38.5 per cent over the same
period, the rate in prison increased by approximately 77 per cent.
Two additional AIC reports by Vicki Dalton will follow later in the year. One will examine Aboriginal suicide in prison
and the other, Suicide in Australia's Prisons, will be a more comprehensive report exploring some of the demographic
findings in more detail.