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Emerging Trend: The Shipping Container Jail

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To reduce overcrowding in Australia’s Jails, there has been a really interesting trend emerging in in the correctional industry in recent years. The humble shipping container is being employed to solve this ongoing problem. With minimal construction and modification time required and being a very low-cost alternative to building traditional prison structures, the shipping container holds the answer on a number of levels. Discover just how some rather simple modifications to shipping containers resolve the overcrowding issue almost overnight, and how containers are set to transform the prisons and corrections system.

There has been a really interesting trend emerging in recent years in the correctional industry, and it involves the humble shipping container.

For a long time now shipping cargo containers have been used for purposes other than transporting cargo across land or overseas, or for storage. These days they are being transformed into all sorts of facilities and useful purposes, such as:

  • Cafes
  • Pop-up shops
  • Roadside kitchens
  • Home offices
  • Workshops
  • Granny flats
  • Tiny houses
  • Multiple storey luxury homes

And now, the shipping container prison…


Now we can add jail cells to that ever-growing list of shipping container modifications and remodelling.

This doesn’t mean inmates will be herded into conventional shipping containers, where the officers then slam shut two steel doors, enclosing them inside a dark, airtight container. These containers are being purpose-built as fully functional jail cells.

In Victoria, Australia, the move has been made to house prisoners in shipping container jails due to major overcrowding in conventional prisons. Just like it can be hard to find an empty hospital bed in a busy hospital, it’s becoming harder to find an empty jail cell for new inmates.

The concept is also supposed to help ease the pressure of overloading of jail cells at police stations.

Victoria alone has seen an 11% increase in prison population just in the last year alone. Constructing new prisons the regular way takes time – time that is often not available – and a lot of money.



When the concept was first devised it received a lot of criticism, as the train of thought was that prisoners would be bundled into these uninsulated metal boxes and left out in extreme weather conditions; either hot or cold.

It has been reported that shipping containers were also used to house suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay detention camp from around 2002 onwards. These containers were pretty much as is, and weren’t modified.

It was the same in many instances at a number of prisons around the world, but things have changed. People have spoken up and those in authority have listened. Now containers are being converted into fully-fledged jail cells.

Correctional facilities are not only there to keep inmates safely locked away from society. They serve a two-fold purpose and are supposed to help retrain and reform inmates, leading to rehabilitation and the possibility of returning to a better and improved life once back on the outside.

Shipping containers are constructed from solid steel with marine quality wooden flooring. As is, they are already a very secure enclosure. When modified for the specific purpose of becoming jail cells, they are even more secure.

Some of the features many modified shipping container jail cells includes:

  • 6mm steel plate
  • 12mm reinforced concrete panels
  • Quality fixtures and fittings
  • No ligature points
  • Anti-pick screws
  • Showers
  • Toilets
  • Basins
  • Cupboards
  • Beds

Up to 36 inmates can potentially be housed in a converted 40-foot shipping container. However, most prison regulations state that the figure should really be half that, as a certain amount of cell floor space is to be allotted to each inmate.

The shipping container cells can be modified off-site and delivered to the prisons on an as-needed basis, where they are easily installed and ready to go, depending on the type of cell it is.

Some cells have showers and toilets and are hooked up to plumbing, while other cells are basically just sleeping quarters for inmates housed in minimum security prisons. These cells are always open so prisoners have access to all the prison facilities.

Minimum security cells are even fitted with sliding glass doors and insect screens, just like you would have in the family home.

The cells used in the Victorian prisons are constructed from 20-foot shipping containers and house 2 prisoners each on bunk beds.



It seems everywhere you turn these days there is a focus on the environment and leaving a smaller footprint on our planet’s natural ecosystem. That’s even spilled over into the prison and correctional systems, with the recycling of old shipping containers destined for landfill being repurposed as cells for inmates.

The New Zealand Department of Corrections has a firm focus on being environmentally friendly when it comes to accommodations for its prisoners, with an entire container cell unit at Rimutaka Prison.

New Zealand has also been seeing a recent explosion in the number of inmates requiring prison cells, and shipping containers have been the solution to that dilemma, as well as preventing these steel hulks ending up as unused junk.



There are conflicting schools of thought out there regarding the long term future of using converted shipping containers as prisoner accommodation and jail cells.

Some say it’s only a temporary solution, whereas the Victorian government sees converted shipping containers as something for the long haul.

Like anything, the more thought that goes into converting and modifying shipping containers to solve the crisis of prison overcrowding, the better the designs will become, the more secure these cells will be, and their seamless integration into existing prisons will likely become more and more commonplace.

Toss the word “green” into that mix as a way to reduce container waste, and chances are we’ll be seeing a lot more shipping containers being converted into prison cells and related facilities.

Shipping containers are often modified as ablution blocks, for mobile toilet and sanitary solutions. Perhaps this idea could also be incorporated into a shipping container cell unit, further expanding on this growing concept?

A few decades ago not many people would have conceived what’s being done with shipping container conversions today. In the past, they were simply steel hulks used for transporting cargo or the storing of goods.

But that’s all dramatically changed in a modern world focused on repurposing what is, rather than always building things completely from scratch. These days even luxury three-storey homes are being built out of shipping containers.

Therefore, the future looks quite bright for the shipping container prison cell.

Interested in the idea of a shipping container prison? Tiger Shipping Containers provides quality new and used shipping containers at competitive prices. Contact our team of qualified and experienced technicians who can help you make the modifications you require to meet your needs.

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