If you are reading this page, you may be facing jail for the first time, or maybe you have a loved one on the inside and you are worrying for their safety. I have done my time in Australian jails and the good news is, I can assure you that it is not as dangerous as you might imagine. I remember fearing the worst before I went in, worrying about getting beaten, having stuff stolen from me, and I guess everyone's worst fear - sexual assault. 

I'm not saying that prison isn't dangerous - there are fights and stabbings all the time. What I'm saying is that you will not be attacked for no reason. In this article I will tell you how to avoid trouble, and how to stay safe in prison. If after reading this page, you still have questions, I offer consultations via phone call. If you would like to book, or find out more information, message me using the Contact Form.

How to stay safe in prison

It is not hard to stay safe in Australian jail. If you aren't rude to people, don't owe people money or drugs, and have a modicum of respect for others, you will be fine. I am not tough or big, yet I didn't encounter any situations where I was in immediate danger. Read on for some tips on the best ways to stay safe in prison.

Don't try to be the tough guy

You have probably got this idea from watching movies that the best way to gain respect when entering jail is to fight the biggest inmate you can find. The thought process is that even if you get beat up, the other inmates will respect you for having the balls to fight. However, I guarantee you if you start a fight with someone for no reason, you are in for a world of pain. Every pod or wing in a prison will have its own established pecking order. When you enter a new prison or even a new wing/pod within a prison, respect that there are people there that think (or actually do) run the pod. Leave them be, don't act tough to them just for the sake of it.

Respect other inmates

Everyone in jail is doing it tough - we are all away from our family and friends, all missing our freedom, comfort and privacy, and even the small things like being able to wake up when we want. Have a bit of respect for the others you live with. If you enter a prison and there is already a daily routine, let that continue, and you work around it. If there's a guy who always likes to sit at a certain table and have his morning coffee, don't be a dick and sit there just to piss him off. Try to make some friends, and it will help your time pass, as well as keeping you safer, as you have people around you that have your back.

Stay away from drugs

My tip is to stay away from drugs, because too many issues are caused by it. If you have some and someone wants it, you could find yourself in danger. If you are addicted and can't afford to pay back your debts for the drugs, again you will find yourself in danger. Not only that, it is better for your physical and mental health if you stay clean. This is a great chance for you to turn your life around and become rehabilitated. If you maintain a drug habit throughout your sentence, there is a high likelihood you will be dependent on the outside, and a very high chance you end up back inside at some point.

Make friends

Having friends in jail will not only help you pass the time, but it will also ensure that you don't seem like a freak, or someone that can be easily picked on. If you came to the jail with some others on a truck, you can bond with them, as you are all new in that same prison. Also, if you are an Islander, Koori (Aboriginal), Middle Eastern, Asian or Latino, you will almost certainly find others of the same ethnicity, and can instantly become friends with them. They will usually come up to greet you when they see you are new to their pod. 

Making friends helps pass the time, as well as stay safe

Picture: Adam Taylor

Don't screw up the phone line

The phones in jail are one of the big things that inmates argue about. It is one of the only connections we have to the outside world, and those precious few minutes we can have to hear our loved ones voices, before the phone cuts out is so valuable. Some people might have certain windows in time that they can call their family, for example before they start work, or during a lunch break, so if they miss out on that time, it can cause a lot of anger. 

Usually as soon as the doors open for let-go, and just before lock-in are when the phone lines are the busiest. The way to get in the phone line is to yell out "who's last?". When someone identifies himself, you say to them "I'm after you". That way, you know that you are on the phone after they have had their turn, and if there are any disputes, he can back you up. When the next person asks "who's last", it is now your turn to say that you are, and you have to remember who he is, in case there is any disagreement about the order afterwards. Always remember who is before you, who is after you, and don't cut in line.

An inmate on the phone while another inmate poses for the photo. In real life, you wouldn't stand so close to the phone while someone is making a call - respect their privacy.

Picture: Adam Taylor

Don't insult people's families

If you get into an argument with an inmate, don't mention their family, in particular their children. People will get very defensive and protective of their family, so this could lead to a dangerous situation. 

Important tip - DON'T go into protection (the boneyard)

You may think that going into protection would be a way to guarantee your safety. While this is true, you will be housed with other protection inmates, who are mainly sex offenders. You do not want to be around them, unless you yourself are a convicted sex offender. The only people that should go into protection are sex offenders (especially pedophiles), police officers/law enforcement, and informants (dogs). If you are NOT one of these, do whatever it takes to stay out of protection, unless you are really in severe physical danger.

When you arrive at a new prison, you will be asked if you are fearful of your safety. Make sure you say NO. The question is not about whether you are worried about safety in prison in general. It is asking if you have a specific reason to think your life will be in danger, for example if you are a sex offender, police officer or informant. If you answer yes, and you are placed in protection, you will be surrounded by rapists and pedophiles, which no one wants to be. Another thing is, you will never be able to return to the main jail wing, since inmates will find out that you were in protection (otherwise known as the boneyard) and then you will be in physical danger. Even if you deny that you are a sex offender, once you have been in the boneyard, people will assume that you are, and no one will believe otherwise. Don't think that you can just conceal the fact that you came from the boneyard. Every time you enter a new wing or a new prison, people ask where you came from. Then they will ask if you know "such and such" from there. Your story could unravel very quickly, and you do not want to be serving your sentence in paranoia and fear of being found out.

Ask an ex-inmate any questions about jail

If you have any quick questions that you are curious about, or if you are facing imprisonment and need some more info, please leave me a message below with your details. 

I am also available for telephone consultations if you need to chat for longer.

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When is jail dangerous?

I have told you the best tips to stay safe in prison, but it is important to know what situations may be dangerous for you so you can avoid them.

If you owe money/drugs or are a thief

Not paying off debts are a serious thing in jail, so make sure you don't get yourself into any situations where you have people chasing you for money. Don't borrow what you can't afford, and stay away from drugs if you can. As mentioned above, drugs are a way that get people into danger. They become addicted, need an extra fix but can't afford to pay for it, then end up in debt, which leads to physical danger. Also, don't steal food, drugs, tobacco or other items from others, because if they catch you, you will definitely get pumped (bashed).

If you are a dog (snitch)

If you snitch on someone, you are labelled a dog, and this is one of the worst things you can be known as in Australian jail. In prison, it is green vs blue (inmates vs screws), and you should never tell a screw (guard) about something that an inmate did. If you do, you will be in very real danger. This ranges from something like telling the screws that an inmate has contraband, to telling a screw that an inmate stole your food. You do not tell the screws anything; you need to sort things out yourself. If someone stole from you, you sort that out yourself. Never report anything to a screw. This even includes if you were pumped (bashed) by another inmate. If your face is all bruised and the screws ask you what happened, you say you slipped in the shower; you never say that an inmate hit you.

If you are rich

You could be in danger if other inmates know that you have a lot of money. They can extort you, by threatening you with physical violence if you don't ring up your family and send money to their bank account. They may also make you buy items and food for them on the buy-up forms.

If you are a sex offender or police officer

If you are a sex offender or police officer, your will be in real physical danger. For your own safety, you should go into protection by notifying the guards as soon as you enter a new prison.

If you are part of a motorcycle gang

If you are part of a bikie gang, you could be in danger if you are placed into a wing/pod with members of a different bikie gang. When you enter a new prison, you will be asked if you have any associated to motorcycle gangs. You should disclose this, so that you can be placed in a prison with appropriate gang members.

If you are rude or disrepectful

There is no need to be rude to another inmate for no reason. Sure, if they are disrespectful to you first, then that's a different story. But being rude because you feel like it will get you in trouble. Give others the same level of respect they give you, and you shouldn't have any issues

If you are seen as an easy target

If you are a loner with no friends, or you are seen as a weak person, you could be taken advantage of. You may get stood over for your food, and pumped for it if you refuse. If someone is trying to push you around and test your limits, this is your opportunity to make a stand. If you don't, you will be seen as an easy target, and they will keep coming for you to take your food, or have your family send them money. In this circumstance you will have to be prepared to fight. If you lose the fight, it doesn't matter, because it at least shows that you are willing to defend what's yours. If you simply give in to remain physically safe, then the rest of your sentence will be terrible, as you will be taken advantage of.

What to do if you are in danger

My tip above was to never tell the screws anything, but if you are in real physical danger, then this is your only option. You can "buzz up", which is to press the red emergency buttons located in the cells, which notify the guards that you are in danger. They can move you to another pod/wing or even another prison if necessary. Remember though, that word can travel that you have buzzed up, and you can be seen as a dog. There may also be the assumption that you are a boneyarder, because why else would your life be in so much danger that you had to buzz up.

Final thoughts on staying safe in prison

To summarise, Australian prisons are nowhere near as terrifying as you may imagine them to be. However, you DO need to remain aware that violence is a very real possibility, and there can be frequent fights and stabbings. If you have read this article, you have a better understanding of how to stay safe, and how to avoid being a target of physical violence. You may also find my articles "how to survive prison" and "what life is like in an Australian prison" helpful.

If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to leave me a comment below, or email me using the Contact Form. If you are still worried about your safety, or have a load of questions, I offer consultations via phone call. Many people that have used the phone consult service have found it extremely valuable, and I recommend it if you are facing prison time. The best thing you can do before going in is to be fully prepared. 

About the Author

I served a full-time custodial sentence in several prisons in NSW, and I hope that my experience can help others who are about to be sentenced. All the information provided on this site is based on my real personal experience, or experiences and anecdotes from inmates I have met during my incarceration.

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  1. Thank you for taking the time to do this site. My son is facing his first stint in prison for drug offences, maybe not this time, but next time, for he is entirely unrepentant. I am deeply concerned about his safety and well being. I guess like most people with no prior experience with prison environments, my understanding is shaped by American movies – so it is a relief to find out that those impressions are not accurate.

    If he does get sentenced to prison, I'll be sure to point him towards this site.

    1. Hi Greg,
      Thanks for your comment. I hope he doesn’t get sent to jail, but if he is facing possible jail time you should get him to read this beforehand. Once he is sentenced, it is too late, he will be taken straight from the courtroom into custody and he won’t have internet access until he is released.

      1. Thanks Jackson,

        That you for the reply and that useful tip.

        He avoid a term, just…


  2. Thank U for writing this my mum might be going in and I've been having lots of anxiety and this made me feel a lot better, I really appreciate it

  3. I spent 9 years inside when I was 20, when I first went in the advice I got was, stay away from drugs and gambling, don’t run people down behind there back(unless you can back your words up), you have 2 ears so listen twice as much as you talk, respect your foundation and most importantly, if someone messes with you and you don’t stand up for yourself, you in for a world of hurt and even if you get smashed, people will respect that you had the heart to stand up for yourself or you will become someone’s bitch

  4. Your advice about the boneyard is no longer relevant. During the last few years, the proportion of inmates in SMAP has grown to somewhere between 30 to 40% of most maximum security prisons in NSW. Kempsey is 75% SMAP, Goulburn (not including supermax) is 100% SMAP. Protection is no longer just limited to sex offenders and informants. Mind you, the worst SMAP wings are worse than the best mains wings, as SMAP has become full of junkies who get caught petty thieving or can't pay their debts so they bail to the boneyard for protection. Sometimes if someone a bit older who they can tell just isn't a typical gronk comes to jail, they'll just put them into protection straight away if they can tell they're likely going to be better behaved.

    In the mains, if you get threatened, stood over or bashed, all the screws can do about it is offer to put you in protection, but if you refuse, then basically you have to protect yourself. Whereas once you're in SMAP, there's still plenty of violence in the badly behhaved pods, but, if you have dramas then so long as you're of good behaviour you can bail to a safer pod. If you have dramas there then you can keep going up the ranks of pods which are separated according to behaviour.

    It's true that the best behaved inmates tend to be the ones facing pest charges like downloading kiddy porn and that kinda thing. But if you're not a life long crim planning on spending your life in and out of jail with a reputation to uphold, and your only goal is to get through your time safely, then your best bet is to behave yourself, don't give the screws any reason to class you as high maintenance, and ask for protection. So long as you're easy for them to manage, they'll keep you safe by making sure you're in a pod that has zero tolerance towards any kind of stand over stuff. At Kempsey the way they keep the best behaved PODs best behaved is by being super strict when it comes to drugs. Where there's drugs there's dramas, so if you wanna stay free from dramas, stay where there's no drugs and in every jail there will be at least one or two pods now days where they keep the place drug free by tipping anyone they so much as suspect as having drugs or regularly drug testing the inmates within the more strictly regulated wings reserved for good behaviour inmates.

    When youre in the mains you have to rely on old wives tales to understand what the boneyard is like. But relying on what people in the mains think about the boneyard is like relying on American movies to know what jail is like. Because there's this perception of hatred in the mains about protection it means that no one really knows what protection is like unless you actually go to protection.

    Mins you, if you're a fuckwit that gets on the bupe, gets drug debts and goes around trying to be a tough guy in the boneyard, then yes life will be shit cause like I said, the worst part of the boneyard is worse than the best part of the mains. So if you want to stay safe, youre best bet is to be good to the people who are responsible for your safety which is the screws.

    If I had a loved one going to jail, my advice would be to ask for protection straight away, but once there, show you're of good behaviour to the screws and eventually they'll put you in a good wing which may very well be populated with pests and pedos but unless you're a 6 year old girl, you're time there will be safe.

    Telling people not to knock up or ask for protection is a pretty old school way of surviving jail that is really not relevant or safe any more.

    1. Thanks for your input, that’s very interesting and a good insight. I hope it can help others make an informed decision. If you don’t mind me asking, did you spend time in SMAP?

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