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How Much Do Prisoners Get Paid In Australia?

Prisoners in Australia are able to earn money for work while incarcerated. The pay rate and opportunities vary between states and territories, but generally prisoners can earn between $25 and $70 per week to help cover basic costs like phone calls and commissary items.

Prisoner pay serves several purposes in the Australian corrections system:

  • Provides an incentive for good behavior and participation in rehabilitative programs
  • Allows prisoners to purchase approved items and services to meet basic needs
  • Offsets cost of incarceration to taxpayers
  • Teaches job skills that can aid re-entry after release

Critics argue that prisoner pay is too low to serve as a real incentive. There are also concerns that higher wages could lead to illegal activities by prisoners. However, corrections officials contend that the current pay rates are appropriate when balanced with the cost of housing inmates.

Prisoner Pay Rates by State/Territory

Prisoner pay rates and policies differ between Australia’s states and territories. Here is an overview of what prisoners can earn in each jurisdiction:

New South Wales

In NSW, prisoner pay rates are:

  • $25 to $50 per week for most prison jobs
  • $52 to $76 per week for some skilled labor jobs like metal fabrication

Prisoners who work full-time can earn up to $76 per week. Those in the SuperMax High Risk Management Correctional Center earn up to $20 per week due to security concerns.


Victorian prisoners can earn between $31 and $47 per week, depending on their skill level and job position. Like NSW, pay is deducted to cover room and board costs.

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Prisoner pay rates in Queensland are:

  • $24 to $46 per week for most jobs
  • Up to $69 per week for some skilled labor positions

South Australia

In SA prisons, inmates typically earn between $31 and $53 per week depending on the job. Highly skilled workers can earn up to $69 per week.

Western Australia

Pay rates for WA prisoners are:

  • $7 to $24 per week for basic jobs
  • $24 to $47 for skilled labor positions


Tasmanian prisoners earn $16 to $29 per week depending on their assigned job and skill level.

Northern Territory

In the NT, inmates earn $25 to $47 per week depending on their job position and experience.

Australian Capital Territory

ACT prisoners earn between $47 and $70 per week based on their job and skill level.

Purposes of Prisoner Pay in Australia

Prisoner pay serves several key purposes in the Australian corrections system:

Incentivizing Good Behavior

One goal of paying prisoners for work is to provide an incentive for good behavior and active participation in rehabilitative programs. The opportunity to earn money can motivate prisoners to follow facility rules and engage in activities to improve their skills and employability.

Covering Basic Costs

Another purpose of prisoner pay in Australia is to allow inmates to cover small costs during their incarceration. With the money they earn, prisoners can:

  • Make phone calls
  • Purchase approved commissary or canteen items like food, hygiene supplies, writing materials, etc.
  • Pay for medical co-pays or prescriptions
  • Save funds for release

This allows prisoners to meet basic needs without relying entirely on the prison system.

Offsetting Incarceration Costs

The wages paid to prisoners also help offset some of the taxpayer expense of housing inmates. While prisoner pay only covers a tiny fraction of overall incarceration costs, it does provide a small reimbursement to the state and territory governments.

Developing Job Skills

Many prison work programs are designed to help inmates learn job skills that may aid their reintegration after release. By participating in facility maintenance, food service, laundry, manufacturing and other jobs, prisoners can build skills to add to their resumes. This can improve employment prospects following release.

Concerns About Prisoner Pay in Australia

While prisoner pay offers benefits, there are also criticisms and concerns about the practice in Australia’s prison system:

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Pay Rates Too Low

One common complaint is that the prisoner pay rates are simply too low. At $25 to $70 per week, inmates are earning far below standard minimum wages. This makes it difficult for prisoners to save much money or support dependents.

Risk of Illegal Activities

There are concerns that paying prisoners higher wages could actually encourage illegal activities behind bars. Inmates with more cash on hand could engage in gambling, extortion, prohibited bartering and other issues.

Impact on Willingness to Work

Some experts argue that very low prisoner pay rates eliminate the incentive value. If inmates earn scarcely enough to purchase basic items, they may be less willing to engage in work opportunities.

Costs Still High for Taxpayers

While prisoner pay provides slight reimbursement, taxpayers still cover the vast majority of incarceration costs. Some believe the savings from prisoner wages are not significant enough to justify the administrative costs.

Limited Opportunities

Due to security concerns, not all prisoners have access to work programs. Maximum security inmates often have very limited options to earn money. The pay rates also usually don’t increase for experience over time.

Examples of Prison Crimes and Sentences in Australia

To provide an overview of typical convictions that result in prison time, here are some examples of crimes committed in Australia and the resulting sentences:

CrimeConviction & Sentence
Armed robbery of service stationFound guilty through jury trial. Sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with non-parole period of 7 years.
Major drug trafficking operationPleaded guilty. Received 17 year prison sentence with 14 year non-parole period.
Child sexual abuseConvicted at trial. Sentenced to 8 years with 5 year non-parole period and registered as sex offender.
Cybercrime hacking of corporationsPleaded guilty. Sentenced to 6 years with 4 year non-parole period.
Major tax fraudConviction through judge-only trial. Sentenced to 4 years with 2 year non-parole period and ordered to repay funds.
Manslaughter during assaultConvicted at trial. Sentenced to 12 years with 9 year non-parole period.

These examples illustrate the wide range of crimes that can result in multi-year prison sentences in Australia and the role of plea deals and parole periods in impacting time served. The crimes cover offenses like robbery, drug trafficking, sexual abuse, cybercrime, financial fraud, manslaughter and more.

Quotes on Prisoner Pay in Australia

Here are some quotes from government officials, prisoner advocates and others on the topic of prisoner pay in Australia:

“Prison work programs and modest wages prepare inmates for employment after release. The pay rates are not exploitative and provide incentives for prisoners to develop skills.” – John Wilson, Corrections Commissioner, Queensland

“Our aim is to reduce reoffending. Providing opportunities to work and earn money can help prisoners support themselves legally when released.” – Emily Stone, Director for NSW Corrective Services Academy

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners are significantly over-represented in the justice system. Prison work programs must be culturally appropriate and accessible.” – Cheryl Axelby, Co-Chair for National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services

“Prisoners earn only a fraction of standard wages, making saving and supporting family impossible. Pay rates should better reflect skills to prepare for release.” – Debbie Kilroy, CEO of Sisters Inside advocacy group

“We want prisoners to gain real, marketable skills. But very low pay risks making work programs ineffective and discouraging participation.” – Dr. Hilde Tubex, Professor of Criminology at University of Western Australia

Frequently Asked Questions About Prisoner Pay in Australia

Here are answers to some common questions about how much prisoners are paid in Australia:

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How much do prisoners get paid per day in Australia?

Prisoner pay is calculated weekly rather than daily. Rates range from around $25 to $70 per week depending on the state/territory and type of job. This equates to $3 to $10 per day.

What jobs do prisoners do in Australia?

Common prison jobs include facility maintenance, kitchen duties, laundry, manufacturing, cleaning, groundskeeping and assisting staff. Some highly skilled prisoners may take on more specialized roles like tutoring.

Can prisoners earn additional money in Australia?

Prisoners cannot earn money outside their facility jobs. No other employment is permitted. However, family and friends can place funds in a prisoner’s commissary account for purchases.

Does prisoner pay get deducted for room and board in Australia?

Most states/territories do make deductions from prisoner wages to offset incarceration costs. This may include charges for housing, food, medical care and other expenses.

Are prisoners in Australia eligible for welfare?

Prisoners in Australia are generally not eligible for government welfare payments like pensions or unemployment benefits while incarcerated. However, they may qualify upon release.


In summary, prisoners in Australia are able to earn money through facility work programs during incarceration. Pay rates range from around $25 to $70 per week depending on the job and jurisdiction. While prisoner pay provides some financial help and incentives, the wages are still minimal compared to standard employment.

Ongoing debate continues around how prisoner pay impacts incentives, costs, rehabilitation efforts and more. However, work opportunities remain a key part of prison life in Australia for the foreseeable future.

Prison Inside Team

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We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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