Caring for the Incarcerated

The number of people (including youth) in NSW prisons is at an historic high at more than 12000 prisoners. People have been incarcerated since 1788 in Australia. It also has one of the oldest penal health services. This project specifically looks at historical drivers for change in the delivery of health care for those in prison.

Healthcare needs and the delivery in the prison system has changed over time due to societal attitudes and political forces. Little research has been done however, to understand the relationship between health care delivery and public policy and the health outcome for prisoners. Equally significant, is the connection between prison health services and public health systems.

This research aims to unveil how historical forces come into play in today’s delivery of health care within the prison system. A better appreciation of medical and health policy history will help inform current practice and future needs. The impact of this research will have a direct result on the inmates themselves, along with their families and the community upon release.

In consultation with Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network, this project will map key events, people and philosophies over time which have contributed to the development of health services in prisons. It will focus specifically on the philosophy of service delivery to this population and how it has informed policy and models of care. Key findings will help empower health service planners to implement a sustainable and appropriate model of health care for people in custody in NSW. 

Prisons will always contain some of the most disadvantaged and unhealthy people in a society reflects Dr Stephen Hampton, Executive Medical Director, Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network. "I see this project as a great opportunity to reflect on the history of the provision of health care to people in custody in NSW, with the objective of identifying factors which have influenced that provision. It should result in presenting strategies for improving the health of this needy group of individuals" he said.


The Caring for the Incarcerated exhibition explored 200 years of the NSW prison medical service.

View the Exhibition Guide

In the Media




The team

This project brings together researchers from science, medicine and health, law, humanities, and the Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network.  The team includes two historians, a public health specialist, a criminologist, a creative writer and Indigenous studies specialist, a law HDR students. It also has several external partners which include medical doctors, a museum manager, and creative writing director.

  • Louella McCarthy is a humanities scholar. 
  • Dr Kathryn Weston is a senior lecturer in Public Health in the Graduate School of Medicine within the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health at UOW. 
  • Dr Jane Carey is a lecturer in history in the Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at UOW.
  • Dr Natalia Hanley, is a Criminologist with expertise in (lack of) mental health services in prisons.
  • Aunty Barbara Nicholson, Honorary Doctor of Laws, Wadi Wadi Elder. She is also a Member of Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Watch Committee and is the Project Coordinator writing workshops with Indigenous inmates at Junee Correctional Centre (with South Coast Writers Centre).

External partners:

  • Dr Stephen Hampton trained as a general practitioner and completed a Master of Public Health and is the Executive Medical Director, Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network. He is a specialist in prison medical services and their governance.
  • Dr Tobias Mackinnon, MBBS, State-wide Clinical Director Forensic Mental Health, Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network
  • Andrew Weglarz, State Wide Museum Manager, Corrective Services
  • Friederike Krishnabhakdi-Vasilakis, Director, South Coast Writers Centre
  • Isobelle Barrett Meyering, PhD in History (under examination); extensive experience in archival and library research and scholarly writing.
This project is working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals