Australian Prison System
Imprisonment in Australia is one of the possible punishments that people convicted in criminal trials can expect to receive. Only criminal convictions can result in a prison sentence; civil judgements typically only result in monetary restitution.
In June 2018, just under 43,000 people were held in Australia’s prisons, a four percent increase compared to the previous year. All Australian prisons are state prisons as there is no federal prison system in place, and about 18% of prisons are run privately.
How Do Prisons And Jails Differ?
The terms ‘prison’ and ‘jail’ are often used interchangeably for any kind of incarceration, but in legal terms, they actually refer to two very different institutions.
A jail is a temporary holding cell that is operated at the local government or county level. They’re usually designed to hold suspects who are awaiting sentencing. Prisons, on the other hand, are larger facilities operated at the state level and are designed to hold convicted criminals for the duration of their sentences.
The concept of an Australian jail doesn’t exist, per se. Instead, incarceration is divided between prisons, correctional centres, and rehabilitation facilities.
What Is The Difference Between A Correctional Facility, A Prison, And A Maximum Security Prison?
A ‘correctional facility’ is the general term for facilities at which convicts serve their sentences. It can encompass everything ranging from non-prison community service centres to supermax prisons that play host to the most dangerous criminals.
Prisons are a subset of correctional facilities. They exclusively imprison inmates and don’t feature any community service components. Examples of regular prisons include: Brisbane Correctional Centre, Ravenhall Correctional Centre, Yatala Prison, Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, Silverwater Correctional Complex, and Bathurst Correctional Centre.
Maximum security prisons are prisons that have a vastly higher grade of security than standard prisons. They usually host long-term sentences and will often feature degrees of solitary confinement, limited freedom, and harsher living conditions. Examples of maximum security prisons include: Melbourne Remand Centre, Casuarina Perth Prison, and Goulburn Prison.
These aren’t the only types of prisons in Australia. Some special prisons are designed to receive prisoners and orient them into the system. An example of this prison is the: The HM Assessment Melbourne Prison.
There are also heritage prisons that are listed as having cultural significance. An example of this would the late-Victorian prison, the Long Bay Correctional Centre. Long Bay jail’s famous inmates include legendary escape artist and robber Darcy Dugan, and Rodney Adler, fraudster and former director of HIH Insurance.
What Can You Expect The Conditions To Be Like At Each Kind Of Prison?
On paper, daily life in prison is pretty boring. Everything in your cell must be approved by the prison administration, from books and educational things to CD players. You’re not allowed to have a phone, and in many prisons, you’re not allowed to smoke.
You can get visitors, but you’re only allowed a certain number every week and they have to be preapproved by the prison. Of course. Australian prison conditions can sometimes be a lot worse.
As much as 50% of all Australian prisoners are disabled in one way or another, whether that’s physically or mentally. In many cases, these people are manipulated and abused. Some are even put into solitary confinement for weeks at a time – perhaps for their own safety, but it’s still a terrible fate.
Prisoners are also often required to perform labour, which can pay as little as $0.82 an hour. Large companies often hire out the low-cost services of prisoners. One notable example is Qantas, who partnered up with NSW prisons to have inmates pack their headsets and amenity packages.
Is There A Particular Prison That Is Considered The Toughest In Australia?
Life in a supermax prison in Australia can be very hard, and nowhere is this more evident than at Goulburn Prison, sometimes referred to as Australia's toughest prison. Goulburn Prison is already a maximum security prison and has a special supermax wing for the most dangerous criminals.
In this wing, prisoners spend 16 hours a day in their cells. They change cells as often as once a month and are x-rayed after every visit to check for contraband. They can’t talk in non-English languages, and every communication they have, whether it’s mail or visitors, is monitored.
What’s The Food Like?
Several reports have come out that some Australian jail food is malnourishing or insufficient. Convicts and even people awaiting sentences are faced with soggy sandwiches, cold meals, and tiny portions.
Bad prison food in Australia isn’t a new thing. Back in the 1970s, there were several riots in Bathurst Correctional Centre, which was then known as Bathurst Gaol. Part of the reason? The sausages were smelly...and green.
Are Women's Prisons Run Differently To Men's Prisons?
Some prisons are designed specifically to hold female inmates, such as Dame Phyllis Frost Centre, Emu Plains Correctional Centre, and Dillwynia Correctional Centre. There are far fewer of these than the male-only prisons – unsurprising, given that there are only about 2,600 women in prison in Australia.
Why have a separate women’s facility? Well, aside from reducing the risk of sexual abuse in mixing male and female prisoners, female inmates are also observed to behave differently when compared to their male counterparts.
First off, they’re far less likely to riot or start violent scuffles, which reduces the need for security.
Second, some prisons actually allow women to live with their children, or at the very least spend the holidays with them. Emu Plains is one of them, and its Mothers and Children's Program allows children of up to twelve years old to live with their mothers at a nursery known as Jacaranda Cottages.
That said, while women’s prisons may be run somewhat differently, they’re still subject to the same visitation rules, labour requirements, and the security measures.
Life in Australian prison is hard, there’s no doubt. And mysteriously, even as crime rates go down, incarceration rates are going up. Sometimes, it’s important to be reminded of the dismal life that awaits you if you commit crimes. But it’s also important to be reminded of the fact that prisoners are still human, and rehabilitation and reformation are still possible goals for these people behind bars.