Prisoners and Their Families


This information can be helpful to the family of a person who has a serious illness and is in prison.

When a person is very ill or is known to have a life limiting illness, their family will often gather around them. If that person is a prisoner this can be difficult.

Not all prisoners have a close relationship to their family. Some won’t have any contact at all. Some people who are in prison don’t have any family. They may come to regard their fellow prisoners as family. This may make things difficult or upsetting for some prisoners who are seriously ill. They may be on their own for much of the time.

If you have a friend or family member in prison you may not find out until they are very ill. You may want to re-connect, especially if the person is dying. You can request a visit or talk to the medical or nursing staff if you are able. The medical and nursing staff may also be able to suggest ways you could offer support or provide assistance or support to the patient.

As a friend or family member you may find that the prison is in an area away from towns or cities. You may have to travel a long distance which can be expensive. If you have children you may not want them to visit a prison. You may only be able to talk to the person who is ill by phone. The person in prison may not want to have visitors or talk on the phone. Your family relationships can suffer because of these things. Developing your own support network and seeking further assistance may be important in taking care of yourself and your family at this time.

If you have a family member in prison, you may have financial problems. The person in prison may have provided the main income for the family.

When the prisoner is very ill

Prisons have medical and nursing staff and often hospitals as well. The person in prison should have access to medication and treatment. Prison staff can work with palliative care services and other health professionals to provide care for the person who is ill. State or territory corrective services or other prison support groups may be able to tell you about the appropriate prison medical service. (See links below)

Being released on parole because of a terminal illness is sometimes possible, but does not happen very often.

If your friend or family member is dying in prison it can be distressing. There may still be restrictions for visitors. You may feel that you have not been able to say all you wanted to the person. Talk to the prison health care team if you are able to. The prisoner may be in the prison hospital, or in a hospital or hospice. Wherever the prisoner is, they are still in custody. Many of the same rules apply. This includes after death when the Coroners’ Office will automatically become involved. All deaths in custody must be referred by law to the Coroner.