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Families of Prisoners in NSW

Families of prisoners are often a hidden group in society due to the shame and stigma associated with incarceration. Trying to navigate the criminal justice system can be frightening and families are often left to carry the emotional, financial and physical burden of incarceration on their own. Many experience social isolation and may spend hours travelling to visit a loved one in prison. They are often expected to provide the majority of support for a prison inmate prior to, during and after incarceration, often with very little support of their own.

How many Individuals have a Family Member in Prison?

There are currently no statistics on the number of family members that are affected by a person being in prison. We can only estimate the number of family members affected based on the number of people currently incarcerated. On 30 June 2009, there were 11,160 men and women in NSW prisons1. If each prisoner had just four family members who were affected by their incarceration (parents, partners, siblings, and children) more than 44,500 family members in NSW went to bed with a family member in prison that night. This is a conservative estimation of the number of people affected by a person's incarceration and highlights the need for further research in this area.

Children of Prisoners

In 20012

  • There were approximately 14,500 children under the age of 16 years in NSW who experienced parental incarceration that year.
  • An estimated 60,000 children under 16 years in NSW had experienced parental incarceration in their lifetime.
  • These figures mean that 4.3% of all children and 20.1% of Aboriginal children in NSW had experienced parental incarceration at some stage in their lives.

According to the 2009 Inmate Health Survey4

  • 31% of Aboriginal men and 36% of Aboriginal women in prison had a parent in prison when they were a child.
  • 12% of non Aboriginal men and 10% of non Aboriginal women in prison had a parent in prison when they were a child.

Benefits of Staying Connected

Staying connected to family and social networks while in prison has been documented to reduce the risk of someone reoffending once they get out , and may also reduce the risk of relapsing into drug and alcohol use. The prison experience can often have the effect of weakening or even discouraging family or other positive social support.

"Prisoners can be housed far from home, making it difficult for family and friends to visit, and even when they are able to reach institutions, visitors can be subject to complicated entry and search procedures"

Borzycki, M. (2005)4

For more information:

CRC offer training in working with family members of criminal justice clients in addition to offering a number of support and information services for the families of prisoners. Resources like The Justice Maze DVD and The Families Handbook provide a comprehensive overview of the criminal justice system, what to expect when visiting a correctional centre, managing child care, release of their family member and much more. To view and or to order a free copy of any CRC resources see CRC Publications and Resources. Or you can visit the CRC website for more information on the family services available.


A selection of the references used in No Bars along with other related publications can be found on the Research And Publications page.

  1. Corben, S. (2010), NSW Inmate Census 2009: Summary of Characteristics, Corrective Services NSW.
  2. Corben, S. (2008) NSW Inmate Census, Sydney: NSW Department of Corrective Services
  3. Quilty, S. et. al. (2004) Children of prisoners: a growing public health problem, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health Vol.28, 339.
  4. Indig, D. et al, (2010) 2009 NSW Inmate Health Survey: Aboriginal Health Re[port, Justice Health, Sydney.
  5. Social Exclusion Unit (2002) Reducing Re-Offending by Ex-Prisoners, London: Social Exclusion Unit.
  6. Borzycki, M. (2005) Interventions for Prisoners Returning to the Community, Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology and the Australian Government Attorney-General's Department.
  7. CRC, The Families Handbook: A guide for families and friends of prisoners, 2010, Corrective Services NSW and Community Restorative Centre NSW

"The first two weeks after he got out were the hardest. They shut off emotionally to cope in prison, and that was what he was like when he came home."

A Family member, CRC The Families Handbook, 2010