National reporting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody will move to less than six months in order to provide policymakers with more timely data, an estimates committee has heard.
The Australian Institute of Criminology, an independent government research centre, told senators on Tuesday evening it was working to reduce its reporting period from annually to less than six months in order to offer more up-to-date figures.
Greens senator Lidia Thorpe said deaths could sometimes take years before they were officially included in the statistics and a move to real-time reporting was needed.
"We have had a number of Aboriginal people die in custody this year alone. It's just not good enough that these deaths won't be reported in official statistics for up to two years," Senator Thorpe told The Canberra Times.
"It is critical to have up-to-date data on Aboriginal deaths in custody in order to address this national disgrace.
"The government needs to urgently provide national co-ordination and resources so that reporting on Aboriginal deaths in custody occurs when it happens."
The institute's deputy director Dr Rick Brown said the expected changes would mark a significant improvement on previous years and work to address the considerable lag in reporting.
"Until about three years ago, we were publishing reports that consisted of two years at a time," Dr Brown said.
"[It] meant that you could have a period of three and a half years between the death and it being reported.
"We'd moved to annual reporting, which obviously shortens that process, and now with the change again, we'll shorten it to less than six months."
Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission chief Michael Phelan, who spoke on behalf of the institute, said the move would help policy makers and legislators better identify whether new initiatives were working.
"[The reports are] there to inform policy agencies for policy response to to problems and issues," Mr Phelan said.
"The more timely, obviously the better."
Labor senator Kristina Keneally asked the institute, the only agency to collect national data on deaths in custody, for the latest total figure in the more than 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody had been conducted.
Senator Keneally noted the latest official figures were 455 deaths, which came from the institute's 2018-19 report.
Mr Phelan said there had been an additional 20 deaths in custody as of 30 June 2020, marking a new total of 475 deaths since 1991.
The figure had not been made public previously but will feature in one of two reports due for release in November this year, he said.
"We're working at all levels of government at the moment to make sure that we've got the right figures, and we can put them out in a timely fashion as early as we possibly can," Mr Phelan said.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: