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Impact of Incarceration on Deaths of Indigneous Aboriginals in Custody

Introduction to Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies

For the past 26 years, since the report on the Royal Commission regarding the Aboriginal Deaths in the Custody got tabled under the Australian Parliament, the deaths of the Indigenous Aboriginals got doubled in the prison. According to some of the observations and analysis made by some critics, it can be said that one of the political factor responsible behind the long term sufferance of the Indigenous Aboriginals is racism. In most of the situations, the criminal offenses by the Indigenous Australians got dramatically over-represented in the courts (AIATSIS, 2020). However if one looks at the percentage of the Indigenous Australians, they comprised only around 3 percent of the entire population which makes up more than 27 percent of the prison population and at the same time 55 percent of the youth detention population.

From the diagram above it is clear that there exists a huge gap between the actual population of the Indigenous Australians residing in Australia and the ones who are dying in the prison. The certain analysis highlights that it is the failure of the Australian government to follow up on their self-procedures and also failed in providing an adequate amount of medical care to Indigenous people living in the custody (Australian Law Reform Commission, 2018). The continuous incarceration of Indigenous Australians in the prison without any kind of medical support ultimately led to the higher rates of deaths among Indigenous Australians.

According to the analysis undertaken by “The Guardian” newspaper, the report on the last 12 months reflects that the rate of the Indigenous deaths in prison had increased from around 35.4 percent to 38.6 percent due to the medical care negligence. The primary focus behind researching this particular topic is to check how the indigenous death in Australia is related to the incarceration of the Australians in the prison for longer periods. Along with this, the interventions in context with these factors which have been enacted in the past 5 years will be evaluated in the research proposal along with the success stories if any occurred during those periods (Evershed, 2020).

Research Question

The deaths among the Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islanders are the custody is considered as one of the social and political issues in Australia which is the research question of this study.

Outline of The Issue Stating Why This Particular Research Is Necessary

The concept of Racism or discrimination brings a difference between the treatment of Indigenous Australians (Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders) and the non-Indigenous Australians under custody. It can be reflected from certain factors for example in New South Wales, the screening process to some extent is absent in the context of arresting and charging Australians. As of June 2012, the imprisonment rate of both Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islanders prisoners was around 15 times greater than the non-indigenous prisoners as compared to 2011. In between the period (2002 to 2012), the rates of imprisonment for both the Islander and the Torres Straits got increased from 1,262 to 1,914 per 100,000 adult Aboriginal as well as Torres Strait Islanders (The Guardian, 2020).

The localized surveys in Australia which get concentrated in certain courts or certain regions highlights that there occurs harsher treatment for the Indigenous Australians as compared to the non-Indigenous Australians under the custody. The fair screening process was absent from the Magistrate’s courts and also from the Director of Public Prosecutions which made the researcher think to research this particular topic. According to the Australian Institute of Criminology Report regarding Deaths in Custody as on 30th June 2011, there occurred around 2325 deaths out of which around 450 are the Aboriginal or the Torres Straits (AIATSIS, 2020). It had been argued by some critics that the reason behind incarceration among the Indigenous Australians for longer periods under the custody was due to certain factors like long term criminal histories, committing multiple offenses, and maximum occurrences of previous breached court orders.

However, if one tries to find out the exact justification and reason behind these occurrences was due to certain social factors which that particular Indigenous Australian had gone through like continuous childhood neglect or abuse, mental health problems as well as poor family upbringing, etc. The other issues that had been highlighted in this context were the higher chances of the suicides among the Indigenous Australians at the time of spending their life in custody (Powertopersuade, 2019). This occurs sometimes due to the presence of depression and mental illness among Indigenous Australians.

On the other hand, it had also been observed that the Indigenous Australian after being released from the custody, was unable to receive mental support from the family, and this way, their community living also got disturbed and gradually got involved themselves in family instability. In many situations, the problems that had been reflected and can also be stated as driving factors behind the incarceration of the Aboriginals and Torres Straits Islanders in Australia were the presence of family violence and sexual abuse (Human Rights Watch, 2018).

According to the New South Wales study, it has been found that around 70 percent of the Aboriginals along with the Torres Strait Islander females disclosed that 78 percent of them have been suffering from physical abuse. The same data had been forwarded by the National Association of Community Legal Centres regarding the physical abuse as well as the assault of the Aboriginal women in New South Wales prison. Some of the Aboriginal Torres Straits women have been interviewed where it had been observed that their upbringing was poor and at the same time since very early ages, they had faced a lack of cultural competencies and experiences in context to direct and indirect discrimination and at the same time had also faced poverty as well as social isolation (AIATSIS, 2020).

Another issue that had framed a ground to conduct this particular research was regarding the practical scenario that occurred in New South Wales. This is regarding a female who was 36 and her name was Rebecca Mather and was the first Aboriginals person to die in New South Wales police custody since the introduction of mandatory custody notification service (CNS) during 2000. The lady had been taken into the protective custody for allegedly walking in an intoxicated way along the road called Cessnock. The police forces did not find time in calling an ambulance or looked for any drugs and at the same time also did not communicate with the responsible person since they thought mistakenly that the lady was HIV positive (Evershed, 2020). They also did not enter her cell and when she was checked in and at 5.51 am, she was found dead. The medical records show that the level of intoxication along with the breathing difficulties was higher inside the lady and this was the reason she died. The police forces had provided different justifications to cover up their faults and had denied in discussing the actual issue. At that time it was their sole responsibility to take the lady at the hospital for the lady to get survive soon (Humanrights, 2007).

Current Knowledge and Research Gap

The current studies highlight that there had existed certain limitations. The first limitation was that the researcher had failed in performing the in-depth research study with the help of the statistical applications. Instead, he had involved himself in using Graph Pad prism to perform the data analysis which led to the unbalanced design and cannot be able to adequately handle the missing numerical values at the time of conducting the statistical analysis.

Another limitation of the study was conducted the telephonic interview instead of performing facial interactions since, in this kind of instance, data misinterpretation along with the misinterpretation of the information’s often occurs. In addition to this, another research gap that had been reflected through the research proposal is that the researcher had mainly highlighted the mental traumas and the suicidal attempts by the Aboriginal Torres Straits Islanders. However, the researcher had failed in highlighting the physical abuses that often being faced by the Aboriginal woman inside the prison.

Another research gap that can be portrayed here was the gap between the thinking perspectives among the researchers with the actual outcomes. The gap in the research can also be reflected through the sampling size where the biased sample selection has been made and not a random selection. The basic reason that got highlighted through this is the use of telephonic conversations which results in less depth study along with the biased results. In this kind of situation, the researchers always running at the risk of lesser effective outcomes of the study. At the same time, the study that had been conducted by the researcher was retrospective by nature which had features of providing biased results and hence inferior evidence levels. In addition to this, the limitation or research gap was there in the context of the limited data regarding the mental issues that have been obtained among the Aboriginal Islanders in the prison under someone’s custody. Another limitation was there in the limitations in the study articles that had been evaluated by the researcher at the time of undertaking the research.

In this situation, the researcher had limited accessibility to the available published research articles and hence had failed in selecting the relevant ones. Throughout the study, it had also been found that the researcher had failed in evaluating the other physical activities faced by the Aboriginals inside the prison-like higher cholesterol levels, diabetes along with high blood pressure and sugar. Due to non-facial interactions, it had been found that the respondents in the survey had not participated well and at the same time also faced embarrassed in sharing the true information to the researchers which had created a data gap and also in the research study. On the other hand, self-reliability was also lacking and hence the exact information’s also not got revealed for the reason of embarrassment.

Reasons Behind the Innovation of The Research

According to The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it is always the right of the Australians including the Aboriginal Islanders to attain the highest standard of both physical as well as mental health so that minimum standard living can be attained with an adequate amount of food along with proper clothing and housing along with the accessibility towards education. Under the National Aboriginal Health Strategy (1998), Indigenous Aboriginals in Australia highlighted that their status of health is actually linked with the physical environment and also along with dignity. However, the data that had been obtained and the research highlighted that the Indigenous class in Australia had been deprived of these privileges which had forced some of the Aboriginal Islanders to commit certain unlawful practices. In this situation, the research study by the future researchers is highly recommended to look at the responsible factors behind these occurrences and hence providing better outcomes against that.

Research Benefits for Society and Social Work

According to The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, undertaking the Ethical Research in the Australian Indigenous Studies will ultimately benefit society as well as social work. The guidelines will be getting regularly revised so that the developments can get reflected in certain critical areas that have got emerged since previous editions. This will involve changes in the intellectual property laws along with the changes in the traditional cultural expressions along with the establishment of agreements as well as protocols that will be beneficial for the society as a whole. Hence it is always the responsibility of the researchers in undertaking digital development along with improvement in both data as well as information management (AIATSIS, 2020).

The priority of the research innovation and benefits lies in the fact where conducting consultations turns out to be important for the Indigenous Australians under custody since it is considered as one of the broader movement in the Western society so that the citizen’s active participation can get encouraged along with improvement in concerning matters. To make the research beneficial for the society as well as the community as a whole, the researcher should undertake a flexible approach so that the organized consultation can be undertaken with the Indigenous people in prison under the custody. In this situation, the data also need to be gathered from the community as well as from the neighbour as well with whom that particular Aboriginal resides to know about his cultural background, upbringing. Hence the listening skills need to be well adapted by the researchers where the researcher should hear the issues form the participants and viewpoints and accordingly will respond likewise (Human Rights Watch, 2018).

Research Methodology

The research method that needed to be chosen by the researcher depends on the research goal. This particular research’s primary focus was to look at the factors responsible for the incarceration of Aboriginal Islanders and the actual causes behind their death in prison under custody. For this particular research, it should be the responsibility of the researcher to conduct survey research method where the researcher can be able to connect with the participants and can able to perform the data analysis within a short period. The research methodology gets conducted to obtain relatively short answers apart from the extensive responses from the qualitative interviews.

Appropriateness of Methodology

To bring positive change among the lives of the research subjects, the research approach that is the participative approach turns out to be important where the vulnerable groups of the society like the Islanders in Australia can be able to well respond in every question asked by the researcher. However, in this context, the researcher needs to maintain ethics at the time of questioning the Indigenous Australians and had no right in forcing them to answer the questions. Hence the research methodology appropriateness can be measured when the feelings behaviours as well as the actual problems faced by the Islanders in the prison under the custody can be acknowledged and analyzed.

As a whole along with the quantitative data, the qualitative data needs to be collected by the researcher where secondary research is very important that is the journals and books play an important role along with the previous research conducted by other researchers previously. The pros of both qualitative along with the quantitative methodology is that through them the systematic description regarding the large collected things can be well described along with the flexible performances. In this situation, the researcher should be responsible enough in fixing the time properly that is when to complete the research.

Overall Research Design

In this aspect, the cross-sectional research design needs to be undertaken by the researcher which can be stated as one of the observational studies through which the data analysis can be conducted from a set of population. The function of this kind of research design is to ensure pieces of evidence so that the research problems can get identified and can also be solved.

The cross-sectional research design can be defined as one of the collaborative as well as an adaptive research design that works out in case of community situations. This particular design gets focused on pragmatic as well as a solution-driven approach where the in-depth information can get easily solved and obtained.

Data Analysis

At the time of analyzing the data, the researcher should undergo certain ethical prospects like spirit and integrity, respect, responsibility, equity along with cultural continuity. In this aspect, the researcher needs to be responsible enough in analysing the diversity among the individual indigenous groups as well as communities to carry and report this research independently. Individual rights also need to be well-respected ain order to motivate them in participating in research.

The researcher thought to research with the help of one of the most significant and effective data analysis tools which IBM SPSS Statistics 21. Through this particular software, the cross-sectional data can be easily collected and the primary focus of the research study can also get easily evaluated. The SPSS software package was created for the management and statistical analysis of social science data. ... Most top research agencies use SPSS to analyze survey data and mine text data so that they can get the most out of their research projects.

Gantt Chart


Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 6

Outlining issue


Developing a research design


Developing a research methodology


Data Analysis


Risk identification and solution


In this particular timeline, it has been found that the researcher to complete the entire research should be taking more than a month so that no structural issues will be present under the research.

Risk Identification and Steps in Risk Mitigation

The researcher at the time of accessing the information from the researcher should follow the AIATSIS code of ethics which ultimately assists the researchers with national as well as international guidance’s in the ethical research field concerning the Indigenous individuals. However, certain risks often faced by the researchers at the time of communicating with the Indigenous people like the people have not actively participated in sharing their information with the researchers.

The main factors which are responsible for this kind of issue are the presence of stress, helplessness faced by that particular group of people from every early stage (Humanrights, 2007). At the time of gathering the information’s from the Indigenous Aboriginals, it is always the responsibility of the think certain aspects that is incarcerating the Aboriginal prisoners inside prisons for a long time apart from their families and communities creates long term impacts on the prisoners which might develop intense anger along with the feeling of powerlessness among the Indigenous group in Australia which needs to be handled carefully and can only be possible through the development of risk mitigation plan through which suicidal incidences along with maintenance of the Aboriginal persons wellbeing should be well framed and should not be violated at the time of questioning the Aboriginal Islanders. Hence certain factors which will help the researches in mitigating risk are;

  • Existence of constant communication and consultation with the stakeholders associated with the research should be managed
  • Analyzing as well as risk evaluation turns out to be one of the important factor based on which the list of risks can be easily prioritized
  • The strategy implementation needs to be followed at the time of managing any kind of risky events
  • Monitoring along with reviewing the project risk management effectiveness should be the prior need of the researcher

In every situation, conducting ethical research means certain ethical activities that need to be performed by the researcher to investigate, document along with analyzing and interpreting the matters so that a particular group in the society that is the Indigenous Australians can be benefited and can also get culturally developed. The Aboriginals refer to First Nations, Inuit as well as Metis individuals. Hence the researcher might face the risk at the time of gathering the information’s from those Indigenous Aboriginals who have been incarcerated in the prison for many years and because of that both of their minds along with the physical health condition got ruined (Evershed, 2020).

Hence, keeping in mind the Aboriginal Islander’s cultural background along with their heritages, the researcher needs to gather information’s from them without violating the ethical principles and their way of behavior. In this situation, ethics is defined as a certain rule of conduct through which an individual’s expression can get interpreted ad reflected, and hence along with this, the societal, as well as the cultural values, can get gradually uplifted.

Within the Aboriginal Communities itself, the struggle had gone beyond the survival since very smaller enclaves set apart from the non-Aboriginal Canada. Nowadays, the struggle among the Aboriginals is also there in managing the land as well as economic activity, the structure of governance along with health and educational provisioning, justice, and other human services (Evershed, 2020).

The risk mitigation approaches involve the establishment of significant positive communication skills through which the problems can be well understood and accessed and accordingly the answers will be analyzed well along with the coding of the responses to develop more proficiencies and perfection among the researchers at the time of task delivery.

It has been found from certain researches that certain Aboriginal social groups exist among the Aboriginal prisoners in the Southern part of Australia and this kind of particular social group among the prisoners receives an adequate amount of safety and support within the possible hostile environment and this way the family connections get maintained. Hence at the time of conducting the research, the researcher might face risks in gathering personal information’s from the particular social group of Aboriginals inside the prison. Hence effective communication should be maintained with adequate compassion and care (Evershed, 2020).

Ethical Questions

According to the AIATSIS Code of Ethics, the researcher needs to follow one important aspect that is spirit and integrity. There exist certain components of spirit and integrity like responsibility, cultural continuity, equity, respect as well as reciprocity which need to be kept in mind by the researcher at the time of performing the questionnaire survey for the Indigenous Australians (The Guardian, 2020). The National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research ultimately guides the researchers in performing a logical questionnaire survey for the Indigenous Aboriginals in Australia through which the decision making can get justified easily.

The National Statement on Ethical Conduct got jointly developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council. Now the ethical questions which are important here to be looked into are respecting the autonomy of the individuals that are the Indigenous Australians so that the individuals can get empowered and at the same time helping them if they undertake any wrong actions (AIATSIS, 2020). Hence in every situation, the researchers should not force the respondents to answer beyond their commitment level and spirit. In this situation, respecting the culture of the Aboriginals who have been incarcerated for many years inside the prison (AIATSIS, 2020). They should always be approached with compassion and care.

Other than that the researchers need to be duly responsible for negotiating the participation among the Islanders to take part in the cultural events through which the collective, as well as the individual identity, can get balanced. In the eye of the researcher, all the Indigenous Aboriginals should be treated in the same manner. Without creating any harm for the respondents and developing the fearful environment for the respondents, the researcher should be undertaking smooth conversations keeping in mind the background of the Indigenous Australians who have been incarcerated for many years. Hence equitable as well as respectful engagement with the respondents during the development phase needed to be ensured so that the interest of both the group can be satisfied (Human Rights Watch, 2018).

References for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies

AIATSIS. (2020, August 25). Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies. Retrieved from https://aiatsis.gov.au/research/ethical-research/guidelines-ethical-research-australian-indigenous-studies

Australian Law Reform Commission. (2018, January 11). Drivers of incarceration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Retrieved from https://www.alrc.gov.au/publication/pathways-to-justice-inquiry-into-the-incarceration-rate-of-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-peoples-alrc-report-133/11-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-women/drivers-of-incarceration-for-aboriginal-and-torres-

Evershed, N. (2020, June 12). Deaths inside: how we track Indigenous deaths in custody and why we do it . Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jun/11/deaths-inside-how-we-track-indigenous-deaths-in-custody-and-why-we-do-it

Human Rights Watch. (2018, February 6). “I Needed Help, Instead I Was Punished” . Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/02/06/i-needed-help-instead-i-was-punished/abuse-and-neglect-prisoners-disabilities

Humanrights. (2007, April 29). Social determinants and the health of Indigenous peoples in Australia – a human rights based approach. Retrieved from https://humanrights.gov.au/about/news/speeches/social-determinants-and-health-indigenous-peoples-australia-human-rights-based

Powertopersuade. (2019, July 18). Racial and Gender Justice for Aboriginal Women in Prison. Retrieved from http://www.powertopersuade.org.au/blog/racial-and-gender-justice-for-aboriginal-women-in-prison/18/7/2019

The Guardian. (2020, August 25). Deaths Inside. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/ng-interactive/2018/aug/28/deaths-inside-indigenous-australian-deaths-in-custody?case=125

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