There are several different types of jails in Australia, so it can be hard to describe what 'a typical day in jail' or 'prison life' is like without first knowing which prison you are talking about. I will go through the different types and give you some info for each type. 

Maximum Security prisons

When people hear of a maximum security prison, they usually think of an extremely strict prison, for the worst types of offenders. You might conjure up images of bare concrete cells and each inmate locked up behind steel bars for their whole sentence. This is nowhere near the truth. A maximum security prison is for those with an A classification (classo), which can be violent offences or long sentences. Don't think that maximum security means that everyone there is a rapist or murderer. In fact, it may shock you that many criminals convicted of sexual offences will end up in minimum security.

You can progress through the classifications and move from a maximum security prison to a minimum security if you are well-behaved during your sentence. Usually your classification is reviewed every 12 months, so you can work towards a more relaxed sentence in a minimum security jail.

Maximum security prisons let inmates out of their cell in the morning (eg: 7am) and lock them back in the cell in the early afternoon (eg: 3pm). During the day, inmates are free to roam within the pod/wing, which has telephones, tables and chairs, showers, kitchen, a TV, and often a table tennis table. A picture of one of the pods in Silverwater Correctional Complex, in Sydney, NSW is shown below.

An example of a pod - Silverwater Correctional Complex

Picture: Tim Hunter

Usually you will be allowed outside to the recreation yard for an hour or so each day. Inmates can use this time to get some fresh air, sunshine and walk around. 

Medium Security prisons

The term medium security prison is not really used, because the facility is almost identical to maximum security. But medium security prisoners are those that have a B classo - offences that are less serious than those in A classo, and inmates that are on remand (awaiting trial, without bail). The hours that inmates are allowed out is a bit more relaxed than in maximum security. For example, you may be let out between 7am and 5pm, so you have an extra couple of hours of freedom. You will spend most of your time in the pod, with usually an hour to go outside to the rec yard. Some jails will have a basketball court, or an oval that inmates can use. Some may have basic gym equipment, such as chin-up bars, but there will be no access to free weights. Inmates will refer to both maximum and medium security prisons as "maxo" (slang for maximum security) because you are very restricted to your pod, and to your cell at night time.

Minimum Security prisons

A minimum security prison is where it gets interesting because the more relaxed jails are NOTHING like you imagine a jail to be. Let's start off with some of the stricter minimum security prisons - typically those for C1 classo. There are some that are still maxo style, where you live in a pod and get locked into your cell at night. Others, like Cessnock are a yard jail. Instead of being in a pod, picture a large outdoor square area, where the edges are all lined with cells facing into the square, and three storeys high. When you are let out in the morning, you are outside in the yard, where there are outdoor showers and a table tennis table, and not much else. There is also time for inmates to go out to a separate recreation yard/oval where you can play sport and go for a run.

The farm jails are the most relaxed prisons in the system, for C2 and C3 prisoners (the lowest security classo). You can only be moved to a farm jail when you have less than 4 years remaining to serve. If you are a first-time offender with low risk of re-offending and non-violent charges, there is a good chance you will go to a farm jail. The fences around some farm jails are so low you can easily jump over it, while Glen Innes Correctional Centre doesn't even have a fence! At Glen Innes, there is only a painted line and a sign warning you not to walk past the boundary. Of course, there are ramifications for escaping from prison (including being given Escape classo, not getting parole, and additional time added onto the sentence) so most inmates wouldn't even think about it. That hasn't stopped everyone from trying, with Selim Sensoy avoiding arrest for 8 months after escaping, before he was finally caught. At farm jails, inmates are locked into a unit in the afternoon (picture a small sharehouse) with a common area with TV, kitchen, shared bathroom and separate rooms for each inmate. When they are locked in they are free to roam and interact with the other inmates in their unit. There are cooking utensils, electric frypans, ovens, and sometimes perishable buy-ups (frozen meat and fresh vegetables) available. When inmates are let out in the morning, they are free to roam the outside area and interact with inmates from other units. Some of these jails are also working jails, so inmates are required to work (usually 4 or 5 days a week).

The picturesque setting at a farm jail

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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Supermax prisons

These prisons have the highest level of security in Australia and are reserved for heinous criminals such as gang rapists, terrorists and serial killers. The only supermax prison in NSW is Goulburn (Goulburn also houses lower security inmates in separate sections to the supermax inmates), and inmates are only allowed to spend one hour outside of their cell each day. I have not experienced supermax personally, but I have heard about it from other inmates. I'm told that in that one hour, they are allowed to nominate one other inmate in supermax that they want to walk with, and that is the only interaction they get with other inmates all day. In that one hour walk, they are walking around in what looks like a hollowed out, in-ground swimming pool. All around the edge of the 'pool' are armed guards to ensure nothing happens.

Which jail will I go to?

The sentencing judge does not decide which prison you will get sent to. When you are first sentenced, you will be sent to a jail for new receptions, typically Silverwater Metropolitan Remand & Reception Centre (known inside as "M double R") if you are in NSW. When you are sentenced, you will be assessed based on your crimes, previous criminal history, and length of sentence, and given a classification (classo). This classification will determine which level of security prison you will go to. They may ask if you have any preference for a jail (within that classo) and you may choose one that is close to your family, or one that you have heard has good living conditions. They may not give you your preference, but you can still try and tell them where you want to go. You are also able to progress through the system and change locations during your sentence. For example, if you are sentenced to a long sentence and start in a maximum security prison, you can eventually change your classo if you do programs to address your risk of reoffending, and are not charged (in-jail charges) with any offences, such as possessing contraband or being involved in fights. 

Want to know more?

If you are looking for something I haven't mentioned here, try searching the site with the search function at the top right of the page, or checking the menu. Since I am always writing new content for this site, I may not have covered the information you want right now. If so, you can leave a comment below, or send me an email using the Contact Form, and I will reply to you at my earliest convenience, and even write a page about it so other people can also benefit.

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. I'm not sure if you know, but what is protective custody like?

    Do all jails have it?

    Is it like solitary confinement?

    Can you work? Do you get a TV?

    1. In protection, you will be with all other people that are protected. It is not solitary confinement. I think all jails have it.

      Yes you will be able to work, but only with other protected people. You can buy or rent a TV from the jail.

  2. What was life in the reception centre like and how long are people there for?

    1. Reception is similar to normal jails, you are usually there for a few weeks while you get processed and then sent to your classo jail.

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