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Escape From Lawful Custody (NSW)

In New South Wales it is an offence to escape or try to escape from lawful custody, which is covered by Part 6A of the Crimes Act 1900. A person is in lawful custody if they have been arrested, detained or imprisoned in a way authorised by law.


If a person, using force, rescue or tries to rescue an inmate from lawful custody, they face a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 14 years.

Any person who helps an inmate to escape or try to escape from lawful custody is liable to a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment. Helping an inmate includes bringing anything into a correctional centre or to an inmate with an intent to help the inmate escape.

An inmate who escapes or attempts to escape from lawful custody, or who fails to return to custody after a temporary release, faces a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 10 years.

A prison officer or police officer who wilfully allows an inmate to escape is liable to a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment. If the officer negligently allows the inmate to escape (not taking the necessary care), the officer is guilty of an indictable offence and faces a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 2 years.

If a person knowingly harbours, maintains or employs an escaped inmate, the person faces a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 3 years. The inmate can be from another state or territory.


A person who builds, or helps to build, a tunnel with an intention that it could be used by an inmate to escape from lawful custody, faces a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. Tunnel includes any excavation or partially completed tunnel.

The prosecution does not have to prove the tunnel was actually intended for use in facilitating an escape, but it is a defence for the accused person to show they did not intend for it to be used that way.


A person charged with escape from lawful custody can defeat the charge if they can raise reasonable doubt that they were in lawful custody and that they escaped or tried to escape.

The laws do not apply to a person serving a sentence under an Intensive Corrections Order, or to a juvenile offender in a youth detention centre.

Prison escapes in NSW

Inmates have developed elaborate and simple plans to escape prisons in NSW. Some of the more well-known jailbreaks are outlined below.

By sawing

In 1977, Russell “Mad Dog” Cox fled Sydney’s Long Bay jail after using a hacksaw blade to cut through a metal bar in a roof in the facility’s exercise yard. Cox had smuggled the blade into the prison and gradually removed the section of bar while doing chin-ups on the roof bars. He remained on the run for 11 years. A violent career criminal, Cox had been sentenced to life in jail for kidnapping two prison wardens at gunpoint in a failed attempt to escape Long Bay jail in the early 1970s.

By helicopter

In 1999, convicted bank robber John Killick made one of the most daring escapes in Australian history. Killick’s girlfriend Lucy Dudko hijacked a helicopter, holding the pilot at gunpoint and forcing him to land the chopper inside Sydney’s Silverwater prison. Killick and Dudko were on the run for 45 days before being captured by police. Killick spent 15 years in jail in NSW for armed robberies.

By disguise

In 1996, inmate George Savvas donned a fake moustache, beard and hairpiece, and dressed himself in civilian clothes to walk out of Sydney’s Goulburn Prison. Savvas was serving a 25-year sentence for drug importation when he escaped the high-security prison by walking out of its visiting area. He was apprehended 8 months later in the city. It was revealed Savvas had been imprisoned at Goulburn after a failed escape from a Maitland prison.

By an open window

In 2015, inmate Kyle Ashley Dale Baker escaped from minimum-security Kirkconnell Correctional Facility in Bathurst. It is believed Baker, who was jailed for an aggravated break and enter offence, forced open a window and fled during lockdown. He surrendered in Sydney 4 days later.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Sally Crosswell

This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

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