Deaths in custody website opened to public

Aaron Bunch

A national deaths in custody database is set to shine a light into Australia's criminal justice system.

It's the first time the information has been made readily available to the public in one location.

Law professor Tamara Walsh says the website will allow the community to scrutinise what's happening to some of society's most vulnerable people.

Prof Walsh said it's these at-risk people, who are often imprisoned for minor offences, who die while in custody.

"They have often have issues with mental health, issues with alcohol and drugs, they're often depressed, they've generally experienced serious trauma and they're at risk," Prof Walsh told AAP.

"When you put lots of traumatised people in institutions, you're going to have deaths in custody."

The University of Queensland Law School project used coroners' findings, along with reports about the deaths, to complete the three-year project.

It brings together the details of 505 reported deaths in custody since 1991.

Previously, research into deaths in custody using court databases was difficult and often costly.

"Not every state or territory makes its inquest findings publicly available and even if it is it can be difficult to search," Prof Walsh said.

Prof Walsh said for accountability purposes it was important the information was made available.

"The problem is if no one is keeping an eye on the deaths and if no one is keeping an eye on what the coroners are saying needs to be changed, then there won't be change."

The next step was to analyse the data further and sift through the recommendations made by coroners, Prof Walsh said.

"We've identified a lot of frustration from coroners who are making very similar recommendations over and over again, which basically aren't being listened to," she said.

"We really need to tell people's stories and shine a light on what is happening because a lot of these people should not have been in custody in the first place."

The website location is https://deaths-in-custody.project.uq.edu.au/