Prison Escape in Australia: The Law

prisoners escaping

Prison escapes have long captured the imagination of people worldwide, and Australia is no exception. From daring feats of ingenuity to audacious plans, these stories of escape from behind bars have become part of the country’s criminal folklore.


The Law


Escaping from prison is a serious criminal offence in Australia, as it undermines the integrity of the justice system and poses a risk to public safety. The exact legal framework varies across different states and territories, but generally, escaping from lawful custody is considered a crime punishable by law.


In most jurisdictions, the offence of prison escape falls under the category of “escaping lawful custody” or “escaping from lawful detention.” The penalties for such offences can be severe, ranging from additional imprisonment to extended sentences for the original conviction. The seriousness of the penalties reflects the gravity with which authorities view prison escapes and their determination to deter potential escapees.

Penalty for Escaping Prison in NSW

In New South Wales, the legislation pertaining to escaping lawful custody is outlined in section 310D of the Crimes Act 1900. This provision expressly prohibits both the act of escaping lawful custody and any attempts to do so. Violating this law can result in a maximum penalty of up to 10 years of imprisonment.


Additionally, section 310D clarifies that it is also illegal to fail to return to lawful custody once the designated period of temporary release has ended. The offence of not returning carries the same maximum penalty of up to 10 years of imprisonment.


These provisions demonstrate the seriousness with which the law treats escape attempts and failure to return to lawful custody. The significant penalties serve as a deterrent and reinforce the importance of upholding the integrity of the justice system and ensuring public safety.

The defence against a charge of escaping lawful custody can be established if the defendant can cast reasonable doubt on the following aspects:


  • Lawful Custody
  • Escape or Attempted Escape.

The defendant can raise reasonable doubt by challenging the claim that they were in lawful custody at the time of the alleged escape or escape attempt. The defendant can present evidence or arguments that raise reasonable doubt about their involvement in the escape or attempted escape.


In some cases, if the accused was apprehended by police without reasonable suspicion of committing an offence, or if excessive force was used during the arrest, it may be possible to argue that the arrest itself was not lawful. This defence can be used to challenge the lawfulness of the arrest and subsequently weaken the charge of escaping lawful custody.


It is essential to note that raising reasonable doubt on these elements can impact the outcome of the case, potentially leading to the dismissal of the charge or a favourable verdict for the defendant.

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Famous Australian Prison Escapes

The Great Escape from Fremantle Prison


  • One of the most daring and iconic prison escapes in Australian history.
  • Occurred in 1984 when six inmates successfully tunnelled their way out of Fremantle Prison, a maximum-security facility in Western Australia.
  • The meticulously planned escape involved months of tunnelling and the creation of realistic mannequins to deceive the guards.
  • Despite a massive manhunt, none of the escapees were ever recaptured, leaving behind a legend that persists to this day.

The Whiskey Au Go Go Firebombing Escape


  • A unique case that involved a prison escape orchestrated as a diversionary tactic.
  • In 1973, two inmates at Boggo Road Gaol in Brisbane, Queensland, set fire to the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub, resulting in the deaths of 15 people.
  • While firefighters and police were focused on the devastating fire, the two inmates escaped from the nearby prison.
  • Both escapees were eventually apprehended and faced additional charges related to the escape and the deadly fire.

The Pentridge Prison Helicopter Escape


  • An audacious escape that took place in 1997 from Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison.
  • Two prisoners, armed with a shotgun, hijacked a helicopter during a sightseeing flight and forced the pilot to land in the prison’s exercise yard.
  • The daring escape left prison guards and authorities in shock and led to a massive manhunt across the country.
  • One of the escapees, notorious criminal Andrew Russell, remained at large for 46 days before being captured, while the other escapee, Peter Gibb, was caught just hours after the escape.

The Houdini of Boggo Road


  • The nickname given to escapologist Raymond Denning, who achieved multiple daring escapes from Boggo Road Gaol in Brisbane, Queensland, during the 1980s.
  • Denning utilized his skills as a magician and lock-picker to evade capture on several occasions.
  • His most audacious escape occurred in 1987 when he squeezed through the narrow slot of a prison door during a court appearance, leaving everyone astounded.
  • Denning’s ability to repeatedly outsmart the authorities earned him the title of the “Houdini of Boggo Road.

Prison escapes in Australia have fascinated the public for decades. While these stories may inspire intrigue and awe, it is important to remember that escaping from lawful custody is a serious criminal offence. The legal consequences are severe, and those who attempt to flee justice are pursued relentlessly by the Police.


From the audacious helicopter escape to the cunning feats of escapologists, the history of prison escapes in Australia reflects the human desire for freedom and the lengths individuals may go to achieve it.


However, it is crucial to recognise that such acts undermine the justice system and endanger public safety. The lessons learned from these famous escapes contribute to ongoing efforts to strengthen prison security and ensure the confinement of dangerous individuals.


Accordingly, while prison escapes may capture our imagination, they serve as reminders of the challenges faced by authorities in maintaining secure correctional facilities and the constant need for vigilance in the face of those seeking to break free.


If you have been charged with a serious criminal offence, contact our criminal lawyers in Liverpool for your first free consultation.

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