The state’s top coroner says the continued rate of Indigenous deaths in custody is unacceptable and more must be done to prevent incarceration after the highest-ever number of First Nations people died in NSW prisons and police operations last year.
Sixteen Indigenous people died in custody in 2021 – double the previous record in NSW, which was eight deaths in 1998. It marked the highest number of First Nations deaths recorded in both correctional centres (eight deaths) and police operations (seven deaths) in a single year since records began in 1995. One person died in an inpatient facility.
Aboriginal people represented 37.2 per cent of deaths in custody and police operations in NSW – more than 10 times the proportion of Aboriginal people in the state.
Asked whether the court had been able to achieve the changes O’Sullivan desired when she took on the role, the coroner said: “To reduce the number of First Nations deaths in custody, there needs to be a reduction in the number of First Nations people in custody and coming into contact with the criminal justice system.”
But the latest data from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research showed the Aboriginal population in prisons had grown, despite the overall prison population declining based on 2019 numbers.
The bureau’s report on the June quarter, published last month, also showed an increase in Indigenous people’s over-representation: Aboriginal men accounted for 28 per cent of the male prison population and Aboriginal women comprised 40 per cent of the female prison population.