Industry Insights – VET in Prisons

The Corrections industry is dealing with a growing prison population and a shortage of staff. Moreover, with a growing focus on rehabilitation corrections officers now need the skills to get prisoners into education and training.

Here are some statistics that illustrate the challenge the industry faces:

  • There are 42,974 prisoners in custody nationally, a 40% increase over the past five years.
  • Between 2017 and 2018, the national imprisonment rate increased by 3% (221 prisoners per 100,000 adult population).[i]
  • The national monetary cost of imprisonment was $2.6 billion for the year 2015.[ii]
  • The average cost per offender is over $100,000 per year.[iii]
  • Tasmania had a $5.7 million overtime bill due to staff shortages in 2018
  • Recidivism rates vary across jurisdictions, ranging between approximately 36% and 57.5%.[iv]

Education plays a crucial role in tackling these issues. To this end, prisons are launching programs to teach vocational and employability skills to offenders to increase their chances of post-release employability and successful reintegration into society. Research has demonstrated that participating in vocational and education training can significantly reduce the chances of re-offending.

  • Two-thirds of prisoners have only completed Year 10 or less and only 16 % have completed Year 12.
  • In 2017–18, 34 % of eligible offenders took part in accredited education and training courses, of which VET courses had the highest participation rate (23.6% of prisoners Australia-wide).[v]

As a key contributor to decreasing the likelihood of returning to prison, VET can address the limited vocational skills and the rehabilitation of prisoners by assisting prisoners to get the skills they will need to secure a job. Correctional service officers have a crucial role in getting prisoners onto a learning pathway.

Offenders need to be assessed so that appropriate training can be offered in line with their needs, interests, and strengths to achieve the best results. To address this, the Corrections Industry Reference Committee has commenced the Offender Engagement Project. The project will develop a new Skill Set to equip correctional services officers with the skills to enhance engagement with offenders. This will enable Correctional staff to identify an offender’s individual learning needs, vocational interests and strengths. It is expected this will lead to increased participation in vocational training programs, as a first step toward future employment opportunities for prisoners when they are released, their easier reintegration in the community and reduced recidivism.

For more information, refer to the Project Page.

[i] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2018). Prisoners in Australia 2018.

[ii] Productivity Commission, Australian Government. (2015). Report on government services,


[iii] Productivity Commission. (2018). Report on Government Services 2018: Corrective Services. Chapter 8.

[iv] Graffam, J., et. al. (2017.) A Future Beyond the Wall: Improving Post-Release Employment Outcomes for People Leaving Prison.

[v] Productivity Commission. (2019). Report on Government Services 2019: Corrective Services. Chapter 8.