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Life in prison

Allowances, other monies and expenditure

Every prisoner is entitled to a basic allowance at a rate fixed by the Chief Executive [see Correctional Services Act 1982 s 31(1)].

Every prisoner (except those on remand) is also required to work while in prison, although the old penal notion of hard labour does not apply today [see Correctional Services Act 1982 s 29(1)]. Remand prisoners may work if they wish to do so and if work is available in the institution they are held [see s 29(2)]. The Chief Executive must ensure that the work provided to prisoners helps them gain skills which may be useful when they are released [see s 29(3)]. At Yatala Labour Prison, for example, industries include boot making, bakery, laundry work, spray painting, engineering, furniture making and tailoring.

Prisoners who work can earn a further allowance [see s 31(2)]. In addition, the Chief Executive can establish a system of bonus payments for those who work well in prison [see s 31(2a)]. The Chief Executive keeps money earned by a prisoner in an account in the prisoner's name and the Chief Executive has a discretion to allow or refuse withdrawals from the account [see s 31(4)].

If a prisoner receives other money, the Chief Executive may either:

  • hold the money until the identity of the payer and the circumstances of the payment are known;
  • return all or part of the money to the payer;
  • credit all or part of the money to the prisoner's account;
  • hold all or part of the money until the prisoner's discharge from prison;
  • if prisoner not lawfully entitled to receive money but it cannot be reutned to the payer, pay it to the Treasurer as unlcaimed money under the Unclaimed Monies Act 1891 (SA); or
  • hold it as evidence of an offence.

See Correctional Services Act 1982 s 31(5a).

Since 9 November 2012, there is a restriction on former prisoners giving or depositing money into the account of a prisoner, without the approval of the Chief Executive, within 12 months of the date that they were released from prison. If money is given or deposited without approval, the Chief Executive must try to return it to the person who paid it [see ss 31 (5b) and (5c)].

The Chief Executive can pay up to 30% of the prisoner's weekly income into an account in the prisoner's name to be used in assisting the prisoner to resettle in the community when released. The prisoner may not draw on that account while in prison unless the Chief Executive considers that special reasons exist [see Correctional Services Act 1982 ss 31(4a) and (4b)].

The Chief Executive may sell any items for personal use or consumption, which may be purchased by prisoners using money from their earnings [Correctional Services Act 1982 s 32]. Items are sold at cost price, but any surplus that may arise is paid into a Prisoner Amenity Account, the funds of which may be used for the provision of services to prisoners [see s 32A].

Compensation Quarantine Fund

Under section 81F of the Correctional Services Act 1982 (SA), any compensation over $10 000 paid by the State for a civil wrong (not including false imprisonment [s 79(2)]) committed against a prisoner (while imprisoned and in relation to their imprisonment) is quarantined. Compensation specified for medical and legal costs [s 81] is not quarantined [s 81B(2)]. Compensation is initially quarantined for 12 months, but this may be extended until the final determination of all legal proceedings that may be commenced by victims and notified to the Chief Executive [ss 79 and 81J]. Creditors may also notify the Chief Executive of any debts they are owed by the prisoner [s 81K]. The Chief Executive must then pay out of the fund any amounts awarded to a victim or debt owed to a creditor within 45 days of the end of the quarantine period [s 81L].

Education and training

One of the special privileges a prisoner may be granted (which may also be removed if the prisoner misbehaves) is the freedom to visit the prison library in the evenings. Prisons also provide technical and further education courses for prisoners.


Each prison provides medical assistance either by a nurse or a visiting doctor. There is no reason why a prisoner cannot consult his or her own medical practitioner provided that the medical practitioner is prepared to visit the prison. However, a private medical practitioner may not be permitted to use prison medical facilities to examine a prisoner. In cases requiring specialist treatment the manager must, if asked, make special arrangements to transport the prisoner to a hospital or other institution. At Yatala Labour Prison, there is an infirmary for prisoners when they are ill. The Adelaide Remand Centre also has a small infirmary. James Nash House can treat those needing psychiatric care. This facility was the first in Australia that was built by a correctional services department but administered by a department of health. Since its opening, similar institutions have opened in both Western Australia and Queensland.


South Australian (State) elections

Under section 29 of the Electoral Act 1985 (SA), a prisoner may be enrolled for, and may vote at, State elections, either in the electoral district where the prisoner previously resided or, in certain circumstances, in the prison's electoral district. A vote sent by a prisoner to a returning officer can only be opened by the returning officer or the returning officer’s delegate [see Electoral Act 1985 s 120(2)].

Commonwealth (Federal) elections

Under section 93(8) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth), a person serving a sentence of imprisonment of three years or longer cannot vote in Federal elections. In Roach v Electoral Commissioner [2007] HCA 43, the High Court held that while a blanket denial of all prisoners' right to vote was unconstitutional, the denial to prisoners serving sentences of three years or more was not.

Life in prison  :  Last Revised: Thu Nov 22nd 2012
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.