|Description of this GroupDescription of this Group|
Scope of Prisons Group
This Group includes the records of individual institutions in which either adult or juvenile offenders have been detained and attendance centres which provide non-custodial programmes for offenders.
The establishment and regulation of gaols was originally governed by the provisions of two New South Wales Acts, the first being An Act ... for establishing Houses of Correction 1828. This Act was largely repealed by An Act for the regulation of Gaols (4 Vic., No.29) 1840 in which reference was made to the Melbourne Gaol. This Act conferred upon the Sheriff of New South Wales the control of all prisoners in the gaol and provided for the appointment of a Deputy Sheriff for the Port Phillip District. The law in Victoria was subsequently codified by An Act to make provision for the better control and disposal of offenders 1853, which was repealed by the Statute of Gaols Act 1864 (No.219).
Under the provisions of the 1864 Act the Governor-in-Council could establish penal establishments being places "at which male offenders under any sentence of detention with hard labor on public works shall be detained", gaols which were also to be houses of correction and prisons for debtors, and prison hulks. All gaols and hulks were to be under "the charge, care and direction of the Sheriff of Victoria (or if within a circuit district, of the sheriff of such circuit district) or such other officer as the Governor-in-Council might appoint".
In 1871, following a Royal Commission on Penal and Prison Discipline (see Papers Presented to Parliament Session 1871, Volume 3) the Statute of Gaols 1864 was amended and the Inspector of Penal Establishments became responsible for the supervision of all prisons (see Statute of Gaols Amendment Act 1871 (No.397)).
Until 1871 responsibility for the administration of prisons appears to have been divided between the Attorney General (VRG 19) and the Chief Secretary (VRG 26). The Sheriffs were responsible to the Attorney General, while the officers and staff of the gaols and penal establishments, including those appointed by the Sheriff, were located in the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475). Prior to the legislative change in 1871, there were separate departments for gaols and penal establishments including the prison hulks, but subsequently there was a single Penal and Gaols Branch (VA 1464) which included the staff of all penal establishments and gaols.
The 1864 Act had also provided for the establishment of police lockups under the direction of the Chief Commissioner of Police (VA 724). Some of these were subsequently proclaimed Police Gaols and used for the detention of prisoners awaiting trial or transfer and those sentenced to less than thirty-one days.
Responsibility for the administration of prisons remained with the Penal and Gaols Branch (VA 1464) until 1960 when, following the proclamation of the Social Welfare Act 1960 (No.6651), the Social Welfare Branch (VA 2784) was established within the Chief Secretary's Department. Functions relating to the administration of prisons and centres of detention were assumed by the Prisons Division of the Social Welfare Branch while those functions relating to probation and parole were administered by the Probation and Parole Division.
In 1971 following the appointment of a Minister for Social Welfare (VRG 60) responsibility for prisons and probation and parole was assumed by the newly established Social Welfare Department (VA 946) until 1979 when a Minister for Community Services was appointed and a Department of Community Welfare Services was established under the provisions of the Community Welfare Services Act 1978 (No.9248). Within this Department, the Correctional Services Division was responsible for the administration of the prison system and for the development of alternatives to institutional care. This Division's major responsibilities included the control and supervision of all persons detained in prisons; administration of attendance centres; the provision of court advisory services including pre-trial and pre-sentence reports; and the provision of welfare and rehabilitation services to prisoners and their families. The Regional Services Division of the Department was also responsible for the co-ordination of correctional services including probation, parole and community service orders.
In 1983 following a major review of Victoria's prison system, the Office of Corrections (VA 1063) was established under the provisions of the Community Welfare Services (Director General of Corrections) Act 1983 (No.9966). The Office of Corrections was administratively separated from the Department of Community Welfare Services and the Director General exercises the power of a Chief Administrator.
The Office of Corrections assumed responsibility for the administration of the prison system and for the provision of adult correctional services which encompasses custodial services and facilities and a range of non-custodial services including attendance centre orders, probation orders and community service orders, as well as the post-custodial, pre-release and parole programs. The Office also provides pre-trial and pre-sentence advice to courts.
Responsibility for juvenile correctional services and institutions remained with the Department of Community Welfare Services.
In 1985 responsibility for the Office of Corrections was transferred to the Attorney General (VRG 19) until 1987 when a Minister Responsible for Corrections (VRG 93) was appointed.
Responsibility for the administration of prisons and adult correctional services has thus been exercised by the following agencies:
VA 475 Chief Secretary's Department (to 1871)
VA 1464 Penal and Gaols Branch (1871-1960)
Chief Secretary's Department
VA 2784 Social Welfare Branch (1960-1971)
Chief Secretary's Department
VA 946 Social Welfare Department (1971-1979)
VA 613 Department of Community Welfare Services (1979-1983)
VA 1063 Office of Corrections (1983-ct)
Institutions for juvenile offenders were, from 1866, the responsibility of the Inspector of Industrial and Reformatory Schools who reported to the Chief Secretary (VRG 26). The Chief Secretary continued to be responsible until the appointment of the Minister for Social Welfare (VRG 60) in 1970. Subsequently responsibility has been held by the Minister for Community Welfare Services (1979-1985) and the Minister for Community Services (from 1985) - see VRG 60 and VRG 80.
During this period responsibility for juvenile offenders has been exercised by the following agencies:
VA 1466 Department of Industrial and Reformatory (by 1866-1887)
Schools, Chief Secretary's Department
VA 2963 Department for Reformatory Schools (1887-1954)
Chief Secretary's Department
VA 1467 Children's Welfare Department (1954-1961)
(previously Department for Neglected
Children), Chief Secretary's Department
VA 2784 Social Welfare Branch, Chief (1961-1971)
VA 946 Social Welfare Department (1971-1979)
VA 613 Department of Community Welfare Services (1979-1985)
VA 2633 Department of Community Services (also (1985-ct)
known as Community Services Victoria)
For further information about the central administration of prisons see VRG 93 Corrections.
Institutions for Adult Offenders
An Act for the regulation of Gaols 4 Vic., No.29 (1840) is the first Act in which reference is made to the Melbourne Gaol.
Prior to this, and as far back as 1837, there was a gaol which is said to have been a "hired slab building," very insecure, and altogether unfit for the purpose.
It was in 1841 that a start was made with the building of a permanent gaol at Melbourne. But until 1850, prisoners convicted of serious crimes were sent to the Penal Establishment at Cockatoo Island or other places of detention in New South Wales.
Owing to the rapidly increasing prosperity of the Colony, and to the discovery of gold, these arrangements were found to be altogether inadequate to deal with the large influx of criminals. The first move was to transfer 26 prisoners from Cockatoo Island to Melbourne towards the end of 1850 and these, with about 35 prisoners from the local gaol were sent under the superintendence of Mr Samuel Barrow to commence work at Pentridge. Thus was introduced the penal in contradistinction to the gaol system of Victoria. The prisoners were housed in two movable wooden buildings, each containing sleeping berths for 40 men. And so the foundations of our present large prison were laid.
The prison at Pentridge was later proclaimed a stockade and when, after the separation of Victoria from New South Wales on 1 July 1851, the Government commenced the issue of licenses to mine for gold, additional prison accommodation soon became necessary. This was provided by the erection of stockades at Collingwood and Richmond. These stockades were constructed of timber; that at Collingwood being enclosed by a wooden fence, and that at Richmond by a galvanized iron fence. They, however, were very insecure, and by legislation passed in 1853 hulks or floating prisons were brought into existence.
Three hulks, the President, Deborah, and Success were brought into use during 1853, and the Sacramento and Lysander in 1854.
The above section is taken from the Annual Report, Penal Establishments, Gaols and Reformatory Prisons 1933, Papers Presented to Parliament Session 1935.
Select Committee of Inquiry upon Penal Discipline
In 1856 a Select Committee of Inquiry upon Penal Discipline was established and reported to Parliament in 1857 (see Papers Presented to Parliament, 1856-7 Vol.3). The Select Committee found that the system of hulks had been a complete failure and recommended that they be abolished with the exception of one hulk which they recommended should be retained as a place of detention for refractory seamen. The Committee further recommended that the Western (Female) Gaol and the Eastern (Male) Gaol which was being used almost exclusively to hold escaped crews from merchant ships who had previously been held on the hulk Deborah, should be sold as they were entirely unsuitable and that the proceeds should be used to extend the central establishment at Pentridge. They recommended that ample new buildings for the "concentration, classification and employment of all criminals of both sexes under long sentences" should be provided and that an outer wall should be erected at Pentridge.
The Select Committee reported that "there is not at present, and never has been, any proper accommodation provided for female prisoners; the Western Gaol of Melbourne is a miserably inadequate, badly situated, and in every way unsuitable building for the purposes of a gaol of any kind, and especially for females" and recommended that "the females now confined in it should be transferred as soon as possible to Pentridge ... in the meantime, females committed for trial, or on remand, should be placed in Melbourne main gaol, and not in the Western Gaol".
In January 1858 by agreement of the Sheriff and the Inspector General of Penal Establishments, female prisoners were transferred to the hulk Sacramento and subsequently to the separate female prison within Pentridge.
The Select Committee was very critical of the practice of imprisoning lunatics in the same institutions as other prisoners and recommended that there should be separate yards for them and that there should be a "discrimination between temporary and confirmed lunatics. Men and women sentenced to short imprisonment for lunacy occasioned by drunkenness (delerium tremens) should be kept in the main gaol of Melbourne ... and confirmed lunatics under sentence for serious offences should be kept at Pentridge, and a department of the new building should be set apart for this purpose". The Select Committee further recommended that confirmed lunatics not charged with serious offences, youthful lunatics or idiots should be sent to the Yarra Bend Asylum (VA 2839). (See VRG 39 Health for further information about the care and treatment of psychiatrically ill and intellectually disabled children and adults.)
The Select Committee reported favourably on the employment of prisoners at Pentridge and argued the greater efficiency of concentrating all prisoners including women at Pentridge; since "their aggregate labor will be of much greater value than if they are scattered, as at present through separate establishments". The Select Committee also recommended the establishment of schools in the penal department and that prisoners should be permitted access to books. Finally the Committee argued that the necessary expenditure should be incurred to provide a system of penal discipline based on the four fundamental principles of centralisation, classification of prisoners, employment of prisoners and uniformity of discipline.
The administration and management of prisons and the treatment of offenders have always been largely determined by prevailing social attitudes. The earliest penal establishments were almost entirely punitive in emphasis. They were defined in the 1864 Act as being places for the detention of male offenders under any sentence of hard labour on public works. Gaols were used for the detention of prisoners not sentenced to hard labour, but prisoners not contributing to their own maintenance could be required to work. In addition to criminal offenders, gaols also held debtors, lunatics and the old, the destitute and children who had been convicted of vagrancy.
When the Inspector-General assumed control of the Penal Department in 1871, gaols were established at Ararat, Ballarat, Beechworth, Bendigo, Castlemaine, Geelong, Maryborough, Portland and Kilmore in addition to the Melbourne Gaol and the Pentridge 64Penal Establishment and the hulk Sacramento.
(Annual Report Penal Establishments, Gaols and Reformatory Prisons (1933).)
In time the distinction between the two classes of institution became less clear; offenders sentenced to hard labour were held in gaols; a women's division was established at Pentridge (VA 863); separate institutions were established for the psychiatrically ill, neglected children and juvenile offenders; and particular gaols tended to hold a high proportion of old and infirm poor who had been imprisoned for having no visible means of support.
Traditionally male prisoners sentenced to hard labour had been required to work on municipal and other public works including quarrying and road making. When in the 1890's, municipalities and some government departments discontinued the use of prison labour, alternative secondary industries such as tailoring, carpentry, printing, bookbinding, bootmaking and the manufacture of woollen goods, wire netting and brushes were introduced. Women prisoners had traditionally been employed in laundry work, cooking and needlework but Inspectors General and Royal Commissioners frequently expressed concern about the lack of suitable employment available to prisoners.
In 1894 a new prison, erected within the walls of Pentridge, was completed and opened as a Female Penitentiary. All female prisoners with sentences of three months and upwards were transferred to this prison which was under the control of a female Governor. To permit the closing of the Melbourne Gaol in 1924, this prison was remodelled and the greater part of it was taken to form the Metropolitan Gaol for male prisoners.
Towards the close of 1898 a new wing containing 67 cells was added to "A" Division (Pentridge). Commenced in 1892, this wing was erected, save for the roofing and the finishing details, by prison labour, the stone being quarried from within the prison grounds and dressed and fashioned by the prisoners.
The additional accommodation thus provided afforded facilities for improved classification, and prisoners became classified as "Special", "Restraint", or "Ordinary:.
The "Special" class consisted of first offenders and others, novices in crime, who were regarded as hopeful cases. The "Restraints" included budding young criminals of the larrikin type. Both classes were housed in "A" Division and placed directly in charge of a Special Division Officer.
The "Ordinary" prisoner passed on to "B" and "C" Divisions.
Prior to the completion of this new wing to the "A" Division, youths who would come under the heading of "Specials" were sent to the Castlemaine prison, while those of the class now termed "Restraints" were transferred to Beechworth.
The "Specials" and "Restraints" were both subject to schooling and to physical drill and, at a later date, lectures were introduced for their benefit.
(Annual Report 1933).
Ticket of Leave, Remission, Probation and Parole
The ticket-of-leave system, under which a convict for his good conduct and industry was permitted to leave his place of confinement before the expiration of his sentence and to work for himself in a specified district under certain regulations, had been in operation from the first. In August, 1860, this system was discontinued and absolute remission substituted.
Later on remission of sentence was provided for under a mark system which was introduced on the recommendation of a Royal Commission on Prison and Penal Discipline sitting in 1870, this mark system being an adaptation of the Crofton system in operation in the prisons in Ireland.
(Annual Report 1933.)
By the 1930's the mark system had been abolished and prisoners earned remission by good conduct and industry above the average.
In 1908, following the proclamation of the Indeterminate Sentences Act 1907 (No.2106), reformatory prisons were established. If an offender had been convicted on indictment a judge could, after considering the offender's character, associates, health and mental condition, the nature of the offence and any special circumstances, impose an indeterminate reformatory sentence either as an alternative to a fixed term or on expiration of such a term. Prisoners were detained at the Governor's pleasure until they had demonstrated that they were eligible for release on probation.
To meet the requirements of the Act the Castlemaine Gaol was proclaimed a reformatory prison for youthful offenders and a portion of the Pentridge Penal Establishment was set apart as a reformatory prison for prisoners of the habitual class.
As the number of prisoners under indeterminate detention increased other provision had to be made for their accommodation and treatment, and thus a tree-planting camp, known as the McLeod Settlement, was established on French Island in 1917. Later still the gaol at Beechworth, which had been closed in 1918, was remodelled and re-opened as a reformatory prison. In recent years very material progress has been made at French Island, farming operations and stock raising being carried on in addition to afforestation. At Beechworth an extensive area of land has been acquired about 2 miles from the township, and here useful employment has been found for the prisoners in clearing the land, cutting firewood for prison requirements as well as for the local Mental Hospital, and in planting pines as a means of stamping out the St. John's Wort pest.
At Castlemaine, in 1925, a schoolroom with modern equipment was built within the prison, and school instruction forms an important part of the curriculum. The school is under the supervision of the Education Department. Instruction is given in the use of tools, in woodwork and sheetmetal work, and in general education. On the farm, about 3 miles from the prison, there is accommodation for fourteen of the prison inmates, and there are houses there under the honour system.
An important amendment to the Indeterminate Sentences Act was made in 1915*, giving to the Indeterminate Sentences Board the power to grant temporary release to a prisoner to test his reform. This temporary release is known as parole, and may be for such period and subject to such conditions as the Board may determine. It is usually for six months however, and at the end of that time if the prisoner paroled is considered satisfactory a recommendation is made to the Minister that he be released on probation. Probation is for a period of two years, and at the end of that period if he has fulfilled the conditions required of him the probationer passes to full freedom. Another important amendment clothed the Board with power to control the disbursement of the prisoner's earnings on his release.
(Annual Report 1933.)
*Note: (The amendments referred to were made to the Crimes Act 1915 (No.2637) by the Indeterminate Sentences Act 1915 (No.2758).)
Prisoners in reformatory prisons were the first to receive payment for their labour and greater emphasis was placed on education and vocational training.
Reformatory prisons were finally abolished under the provisions of the Penal Reform Act 1956 (No.5961) in July 1957. This Act also provided for the appointment of Probation Officers (stipendiary and honorary) and parole officers, the establishment of the Parole Board and the abolition of the Indeterminate Sentences Board. The Act also regulated the making, amendment and discharge of probation orders as an alternative to prison sentences and provided for new sentencing arrangements including the fixing of a minimum term, preventive detention in the case of persistent offenders, release on parole and the cancellation of parole.
The Office of Corrections (VA 1063) currently administers eleven maximum, medium and minimum security prisons including Fairlea Prison (VA 926) for women. Institutions are now expected to place greater emphasis on the rehabilitation of offenders and prisoners are able to participate in educational and vocational training programmes, recreational activities, and visiting and temporary leave programmes. Support services including counselling and welfare services and physical and mental health services are available. Prisoners are also engaged in prison industries including farm and forestry work and in local community projects.
In 1984 under the provisions of the Victorian Prison Industries Commission Act 1983 (No.9944) the Victorian Prison Industries Commission was established to co-ordinate the management of all prison industries and farms. The Commission is responsible for making prison industries and farms profitable, for providing prisoners with work skills in conditions which are as close as possible to those applying in similar industries outside, and for the administration of an industry incentive payments scheme for prisoners.
Since 1976 Attendance Centre Orders have allowed for the imposition of non-custodial sentences. Typically offenders are required to attend a particular centre for two three hour evening sessions per week during which they are encouraged to participate in a variety of courses. Offenders are also required to do unpaid community work arranged and supervised by attendance centre staff. Attendance Centre Orders are imposed for a minimum of one month and a maximum of twelve months.
Institutions for Juvenile Offenders
Prior to 1864 children under the age of nineteen convicted of crime could be dealt with under the Criminal Law (Infants) Act 13 Vic., No.21 (1849) and assigned by the court to persons willing to undertake their "maintenance or education".
The Select Committee of Inquiry upon Penal Discipline in 1857 expressed its grave concern about the treatment of young children held in the Western (female) Gaol. The Select Committee reported that some of the children were destitute orphans confined under the Vagrant Act and others were the children of female prisoners. "They were superintended by a female prisoner in the day time, but not furnished with proper means of education, nor allowed any means of amusement, nor permitted to leave the precincts of the gaol." The Committee was very critical of the confinement of young children in a yard of only a few feet square, of their being denied "freedom and healthy recreation", and of their being confined with female prisoners.
The Committee recommended that destitute children should be placed in an orphan asylum and that while children of female prisoners should be permitted to remain with their mothers, they should be allowed space to play and provided with a teacher who would give them two or three hours of instruction daily. The Select Committee also recommended that a part of the new establishment to be built at Pentridge should be set apart for juvenile criminals who should be employed either in the ordinary trades such as tailoring and shoemaking or in the garden and farm and who should be provided with proper instruction by regular teachers.
In January 1858 female prisoners and children were transferred from the Western Gaol to the hulk Sacramento and by 31 December 1858 there were seventy-six females on board together with a number of children of prisoners, destitute children and young offenders committed or remanded to the Sacramento by the Melbourne Magistrate because no other place had been appointed for their reception. By 1863 it appears that many of the children in care were being housed by the Immigrants Aid Society.
Under the provisions of the Neglected and Criminal Children's Act 1864 (No.216) industrial and reformatory schools were established. In 1866 George W. Duncan was appointed Inspector of Industrial Schools (a post which seems to have comprehended responsibility for reformatory schools also) and by 1876 this Office, which was located in the Chief Secretary's Department, had become known as the Department of Industrial and Reformatory Schools (VA 1466).
Children who were deemed to be neglected were to be sent to industrial schools. Children could be deemed neglected if they were found begging, without a home or means of support, residing with thieves, prostitutes or drunkards or declared to be uncontrollable by their parents.
Children convicted of any offence could be sent to a reformatory school but Justices had the authority to take their age and circumstances into account and to send them instead to an industrial school.
Children in both classes of institution were to be given access to general education and industrial training, and children as young as eight were expected to work for at least part of the day in activities such as domestic work, cooking, laundering, tailoring, baking, shoe making, dairying, gardening and farming. Boys on the training ship Nelson and the reformatory Sir Harry Smith were to be trained as sailors.
Royal Commissions and Inspectors General often criticised the adequacy of these arrangements and industrial schools were eventually abolished in the 1880's and replaced by a system of "boarding out" of wards to foster homes.
For further information about industrial and reformatory schools and the treatment of children and juvenile offenders during this period, see the reports of the Royal Commission on Penal and Prison Discipline 1870-1872 and the annual reports of the Inspector of Industrial and Reformatory Schools in Papers Presented to Parliament.
In 1887 following the proclamation of the Neglected Children's Act (No.941) and the Juvenile Offenders Act (No.951), responsibility for neglected children was assumed by a Department for Neglected Children (VA 1467) and a Department for Reformatory Schools (VA 2963) assumed responsibility for convicted juveniles. Although responsibility was statutorily separated it is evident that both departments continued to be administered jointly within the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475). In 1924, the Children's Welfare Department assumed responsibility for those functions previously administered by the Department for Neglected Children and in 1954 responsibility for juvenile offenders was also officially transferred to that Department under the provisions of the Children's Welfare Act 1954 (No.5817).
Castlemaine Reformatory Prison had been a prison for young offenders under the age of 21 until 1957 when reformatory prisons were abolished. At this time the first of the Youth Training Centres was established at Langi Kal (VA 2545) for boys aged between 17 and 21. Subsequently Malmsbury, Turana (VA 971) and Winlaton Youth Training Centres have been established, the latter two being for male and female offenders respectively, between the ages of 14 and 17 and for some wards of the State.
As with institutions for adult offenders, increasing emphasis has been placed on the rehabilitation of adolescents through educational, vocational training, work release, counselling, recreational and personal development programmes. Non-custodial Attendance Centres for young offenders have also been established in recent years.
In 1961 responsibility for juvenile offenders had been assumed by the Social Welfare Branch of the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 2784) and in 1971, following the appointment of a Minister for Social Welfare, the Social Welfare Department (VA 946) assumed responsibility. In 1979 following the establishment of the Department of Community Welfare Services (VA 613) there was a major re-organisation of the provision of community welfare services. In particular there was a clear separation of the administration of adult and juvenile correctional services which had also been evident in the Social Welfare Department (VA 946). From 1979 there was a further shift in administrative perspective and juvenile correctional services became far more closely linked to the provision of family and child welfare services.
In 1983 when the Office of Corrections (VA 1063) assumed responsibility for the administration of the prison system and adult correctional services, responsibility for juvenile correctional services and institutions remained with the Department of Community Welfare Services (VA 613) and in 1985 was transferred to the newly established Department of Community Services (VA 2633).
For records documenting the central administration of Prisons and Youth Training Centres see also the following groups:
Period of Responsibility
VRG 7 Police Magistrate, Port Phillip District 1836-1839
VRG 11 Superintendent, Port Phillip District 1839-1851
VRG 16 Colonial Secretary 1851-1855
VRG 26 Chief Secretary 1855-1970
VRG 60 Community Welfare Services 1970-1985
VRG 19 Law 1985-1987
VRG 80 Community Services 1985-ct
VRG 93 Corrections 1987-ct
and the agencies cited above in the Administration section.
Location of Records
The Public Record Office holds substantial quantities of prison records, although many early records are not transferred or not extant. Entries in the Summary Guide and List of Holdings for the Groups and Agencies listed above should also be consulted especially for records of the central administration of the prison function. Records have been transferred from: VA 633 Ballarat Gaol, VA 939 Beechworth Prison, VA 940 Bendigo Prison, Camperdown Gaol, VA 1008 Castlemaine Gaol, Castlemaine Reformatory, Collingwood Stockade, Cooriemungle Prison, Eastern Hill Gaol, VA 926 Fairlea Prison, VA 1003 Geelong Prison, the Hulks President, Sacramento and Success, VA 2545 Langi Kal Youth Training Centre, Melbourne Gaol, Metropolitan Gaol, Training Centre.
See List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, sections 13.0.0, 3.4.7, 3.4.8, 3.5.4, 3.5.5 and 3.5.6 in particular.