While this page is concerned primarily with the period from 1900 and the role of the prisons system in managing problematic users of alcohol, information for the period prior to 1900 will be included. This is to provide a context to understand the importance and symbolism that prisons held in Western Australia (WA), especially in relation to its history as penal colony between 1850 and 1868, when it received more than 9,700 convicts.

Prisons were one of the many administrative functions undertaken by the Colonial Secretary’s Office (CSO), which was retitled the Chief Secretary’s Department in April 1924. A Gaols Department had been set up as a sub department of the CSO by 1890 and renamed the Prisons Department (PD) in 1947.

The PD was overseen by the Comptroller General of Prisons. The PD operated under the Prisons Ordinance 1849 until December 1903 and then from January 1904 under the Prisons Act 1903.

The department became the Department of Corrections in 1971, with the passing of the Prisons Act Amendment Act 1971, which established the post of Director of the Department of Corrections (DC). The DC was renamed the Prisons Department (PD) in 1982. The department operated under the Prisons Act 1903 and the Prisons Act Amendment Act 1971.

The PD was renamed the Department of Corrective Services (DCS) in April 1987 and operated under the Prisons Act 1981, which came into operation in August 1982.

The DCS was amalgamated with the Crown Law Department and the Juvenile Justice functions from the then Department of Community Development (DCD) to form the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in January 1993. The MOJ included the Offices of the Crown Solicitor, Parliamentary Counsel, the Public Trustee, the Public Guardian, the Registrar General, the Commissioner of Equal Opportunity and State Corporate Affairs. 

In addition, the MOJ provided administration of the Solicitor General’s Office, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Parole Board and the Law Reform Commission. The Ministry changed its name to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in July 2001.

The DOJ performed a number of roles, including administrative and support services, technical facilities and accommodation to State courts and tribunals, providing legal services to Government and its agencies, and managing adult and juvenile offenders in custody and in the community.

In February 2006 the DOJ was abolished and its functions were allocated to two newly formed departments – the Department of the Attorney General and the Department of Corrective Services (DCS).

The Department of the Attorney General took over the functions encompassing Aboriginal Policy and Services, the Courts division, the Office of the Public Advocate, the Parliamentary Counsel’s Office, the Public Trust Office, the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and the State Solicitor’s Office.

The DCS took over the functions encompassing community and juvenile justice and the prison system.

Civil commitment (1963 – 1975)

In WA the passage of the Convicted Inebriates’ Rehabilitation Act 1963 (CIRA) enabled Magistrates to formally commit ‘convicted inebriates’ to a low security farm-based prison, Karnet Prison, for periods of enforced detoxification and rehabilitation.

Responsibility for the administrative oversight and disposition of convicted inebriates was placed with the Convicted Inebriates Advisory Board, which was established under the Convicted Inebriates Rehabilitation Act 1963.

The Board employed a welfare officer and at least one sessional medical practitioner who provided opinions to the courts at the time of committal regarding suitability in terms of a history of serious problematic alcohol use, which made an order with conditions for compliance. The Board also provided advice to the court for extensions and discharging orders.

However, the Karnet Inebriates Section had opened in March 1963, prior to the commencement of the CIRA arrangements. This operated as an informal process within the prison system as part of a pre-release program for prisoners with prior histories of problematic alcohol use, until the formal operation of the CIRA in December 1963.

The CIRA commenced December 1963 until it was effectively rendered non-operational by the Convicted Inebriates’ Rehabilitation Act Amendment Act 1974, which came into operation in November 1974. The prisons department acquired a separate farming property in Byford, which was expanded into the Byford Inebriates Centre, which opened in about March 1972.

However, even though the functions of the Convicted Inebriates Board were transferred to the ADA, the Byford Inebriates Centre continued to operate until May 1975, when the property was transferred to the ADA, who renamed it Quo Vadis Hospital.

The CIRA was repealed by Convicted Inebriates’ Rehabilitation Repeal Act 1989.

This system of prison-based commitment operated separately and in addition to the arrangement that had existed in the Inebriates Act 1912 for the system of asylum-based commitment of those with alcohol-related mental disorders, as described earlier.

‘Where a person is convicted summarily, or on indictment, of an offence and drunkenness is an element, or was a contributory cause, of the offence, the court, if satisfied that the offender is an inebriate, may order him to be placed in an institution, for a period not exceeding twelve months.’ Section 4(1)

The use of committal orders under the CIRA, which was in reality a sentence to Karnet Prison, was adopted as a perceived solution to a law and order problem involving a small but visible group of so-called alcoholics or drunkards, also known in other jurisdictions with similar legislation as chronic public inebriates (CPIs).

Sources of data

Official detailed statistical information about operation of prisons, breakdowns of characteristics of the prison population, a breakdown of offences which includes a number of alcohol-related offences, changes in organisational arrangements and developments in services and policies, were routinely contained in annual reports from the commencement of the period.

This means annual reports are a rich source of the detailed statistical data contained in appendix tables, including breakdowns of data about utilisation of services and other measures, such as annual commitments, prison census and most serious offences, appended to annual reports.

However, as annual reports after the year 1996/1996 ceased to include the detailed appendix tables that had previously been published in earlier reports, more recent statistical information is not readily available in annual departmental reports.

It should also be noted that –

  • annual reports were issued under the title of departmental CEO’s title, Comptroller of Prisons to 1951/1952 and not the name of the Prison Department
  • reporting changed from a calendar year basis (1900 to 1920) to a financial year basis from 1921/1922.

Note: Some annual reports have been lost or were not produced.

Annual reports: Comptroller of Prisons (1899/1900 – 1951/1952)

  • 1900
  • 1903
  • 1904
  • 1905
  • 1906
  • 1907
  • 1908
  • 1909
  • 1910
  • 1911
  • 1912
  • 1913
  • 1914
  • 1915
  • 1916
  • 1917
  • 1918
  • 1919
  • 1920
  • 1920/1921
  • 1921/1922
  • 1922/1923
  • 1923/1924
  • 1924/1925
  • 1925/1926
  • 1926/1927
  • 1927/1928
  • 1928/1929
  • 1929/1930
  • 1930/1931
  • 1931/1932
  • 1932/1933
  • 1933/1934
  • 1934/1935
  • 1935/1936
  • 1936/1937
  • 1937/1938
  • 1938/1939
  • 1939/1940
  • 1940/1941
  • 1943/1944
  • 1945/1946
  • 1946/1947
  • 1948/1949
  • 1949/1950
  • 1950/1951
  • 1951/1952

Annual reports: Prisons Department (1952/1953 – 1969/1970)

  • 1952/1953
  • 1953/1954
  • 1954/1955
  • 1955/1956
  • 1956/1957
  • 1957/1958
  • 1958/1959
  • 1959/1960
  • 1960/1961
  • 1961/1962
  • 1962/1963
  • 1963/1964
  • 1964/1965
  • 1965/1966
  • 1966/1967
  • 1967/1968
  • 1968/1969
  • 1969/1970

Annual reports: Department of Corrections (1970/1971 – 1981/1982)

  • 1970/1971
  • 1971/1972
  • 1972/1973
  • 1973/1974
  • 1974/1975
  • 1975/1976
  • 1976/1977
  • 1977/1978
  • 1978/1979
  • 1979/1980
  • 1980/1981
  • 1981/1982

Annual reports: Department of Corrective Services (1982/1983 – 1992/1993)

  • 1982/1983
  • 1983/1984
  • 1984/1985
  • 1985/1986
  • 1986/1987
  • 1987/1988
  • 1988/1989
  • 1989/1990
  • 1990/1991
  • 1991/1992
  • 1992/1993

Annual reports: Ministry of Justice (1993/1994 – 1995/1996)

  • 1993/1994
  • 1994/1995
  • 1995/1996