Department Of Correctional Services History

Department Of Correctional Services History

Department Of Correctional Services History

DCS history


1830’s and 1840’s

When South Australia settled in 1836, it was deemed a free state. As such, there were no provisions for a gaol within the City of Adelaide settlement.  Serious offenders were transported to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) and petty offenders were locked in irons and imprisoned on the HMS Buffalo which was moored in Glenelg.  When the HMS Buffalo sailed back to England in 1837, tents were set up along the Torrens River, which were later replaced by a wooden stockade (the Stone Jug) in 1838.
In May of 1837, Samuel Smart was appointed as the Sheriff. Sheriff Smart formed part of the judicial team to establish a separate legal authority in the colony.  In 1839, William Baker Ashton was appointed as the Governor of the Gaol and oversaw the closure of the Stone Jug and opening of the Adelaide Gaol in 1841.
The Gaols Act (Act for the regulation of Gaols, Prisons, and Houses of Correction in South Australia) was passed by the Legislative Council on 5 October 1842 because the Act to legalize a new Common Gaol for the Province was lost by fire in the Governor’s offices, and it was “necessary to make further provision for the regulation of gaols, prisons, and houses of correction”
The Aboriginal Prisoners Act 1844 (An ordinance to provide for the employment and Instruction of Aboriginal Prisoners) was passed by the Legislative Council on 19 August 1844, which enabled the ‘employment and instruction’ of Aboriginal people who were imprisoned.


In 1867, the Sheriff’s Department and the Gaols and Prisons Department were established to manage and control all offenders for the state.
In 1869, the Prisons Act was tabled in Parliament to amend and consolidate all Acts relating to prisons and prisoner management.  There were many alterations and revisions to this Bill. These included the inclusion of the Act No. 11 of 1844, in relation to aboriginal prisoners, the addition of the option to use offenders to conduct labour outside of the prisons, restricting any Justice of the Peace having complete access to the prisons and the segregation of short term and life term prisoners[7].
Due to the contention with Parliament regarding this major consolidation of Acts, the Prisons Act was not passed until 1870.
In 1870, the Sheriff was appointed responsibility of all gaols and custody of all imprisoned debtors and criminals[8].  At this time there were seven (7) gaols open throughout the State:

  • Adelaide Gaol (1841-1988)
  • Redruth Gaol (Burra) (1853-1893)
  • Yatala Labour Prison (previously Dry Creek Labour Prison) (1854)
  • Robe Gaol (1861-1881)
  • Mount Gambier Prison (1866-1995, rebuilt 1995)
  • Wallaroo Gaol (1867-1929)
  • Port Augusta Gaol/Prison (1869).


By 1936, there were only five (5) gaols in operation and the Sheriff’s Department and the Gaols and Prisons Department were replaced with the Sheriff’s, Gaols and Prison Department:

  • Adelaide Gaol (1841-1988)
  • Yatala Labour Prison (1854)
  • Mount Gambier Prison (1866-1995, rebuilt 1995)
  • Port Augusta Gaol/Prison (1869)
  • Gladstone Gaol (1881-1975).

The Prisons Act was amended in 1936 to detail the management of escaped offenders from prison or other lawful custody.  The main contention debated in Parliament was Clause 3 as it was not defined and resulted in offenders escaping custody and serving their sentence whilst still at large. “Clause 3, therefore, provides that where a prisoner escapes from prison or other lawful custody, the period during which he is at liberty shall not be regarded as part of his sentence and that his sentence shall be deemed to be suspended during that period.”


Hangings were ceased in the gaols in 1964 and by this time there was a total of 66 people hanged and 45 of these took place at the Adelaide Gaol.  Only one female was executed in South Australia and this occurred in 1873.  Executed prisoners were buried within the outer walls of the gaol with only their initials and execution date to mark their position.
The Prisons Department was renamed in 1965 with six (6) gaols in operation:

  • Adelaide Gaol (1841-1988)
  • Yatala Labour Prison (1854)
  • Mount Gambier Prison (1866-1995, rebuilt 1995)
  • Port Augusta Gaol/Prison (1869)
  • Gladstone Gaol (1881-1975)
  • Cadell Training Centre (1960).


The Criminal Law and Penal Methods Reform Committee was appointed by the Attorney-General on 14 December 1971.  The Committee recommended far-reaching changes to the structure and functions of the Department, some of which took more than a decade to implement.
In 1974, the Prisons Department was replaced by the Department of Correctional Services, which oversaw the abolishment of capital punishment in 1976 and the closure of Adelaide Gaol in 1988.
From the mid to late 1970s, there have been ongoing Industrial Relations issues within the Prisons Department.  Some of these issues have resulted in major strikes; the first major strike being in May 1981 and lasted for nineteen (19) days.  The ongoing Industrial Relations issues stem from various reasons such as lack of adequate facilities, pay disputes and limited staff compared to offender management.


In 1980, the Public Services Board and Touche Ross Services conducted a major review of the Prisons Department, from which major changes were adopted.  This review focused on the running of the Prisons Department on matters which were likely to improve the efficiency of the prison system including security, staff, training of officers etc.  This was following a report conducted by the Director of Correctional Service, Mr W.A. Stewart, which was to report on such matters as: accommodation requirements, institutional security standards, security procedures, equipment, and staff.
The Community Service Advisory Committee was formed in May of 1982 to ‘formulate guidance for the approval of projects and tasks suitable for community service and to perform such other tasks as the Minister may direct’.  This was a major step for Offender Development and reduction of offenders being remanded in the Prisons.
The Correctional Services Act 1982 was tabled in Parliament in 1982 and would replace the Prisons Act.  This Bill caused contention in Parliament as it was implemented on the 18 February 1982 and was ‘to provide for the establishment and management of prisons and other correctional institutions; to regulate the manner in which persons in correctional institutions are to be treated by those responsible for their detention and care; and for other purposes[7]. The Correctional Services Act 1982 has been amended numerous times since its implementation; however, there have been no major changes to the legislation.

1990’s – current

The Department of Correctional Services had a name change in 1993 to become the current Department for Correctional Services.
As of 2024, there are nine (9) prisons in operation throughout the State:

  • Yatala Labour Prison (1854)
  • Port Augusta Gaol/Prison (1869)
  • Port Lincoln Prison (1966)
  • Mount Gambier Prison (1866-1995, rebuilt 1995)
  • Cadell Training Centre (1960)
  • Adelaide Women’s Prison (1969)
  • Adelaide Pre-Release Centre (1984)
  • Adelaide Remand Centre (1986)
  • Mobilong Prison (1987).


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