Section 1: Chronological Summary 1970 - 2008


Gunn Point prison farm opened

The prison farm was opened in 1973 following concerns about over-crowding in Fannie Bay. The farm held 40 low security prisoners, and reports on the farm were generally favourable. The facility was closed in 1996.

The first of the three Hawkins and Misner reports are published

The Hawkins and Misner reports recommended wide-ranging changes to the Northern Territory corrections services, and set the agenda for correctional services reform in the Territory for the next decade. Their recommendation to decriminalise public drunkenness was quickly enacted by the Territory government.

Report of the board of inquiry appointed to inquire concerning the liquor laws of the Northern Territory

This report recommended the decriminalization of ‘public drunkenness' in the Northern Territory. At the time, one third of prisoners in Territory jails had been convicted of public drunkenness.


The Select Committee appointed to Inquire into Prisons and Prison legislation

The Ward Select Committee was formed in 1972 to inquire into the administration of the Northern Territory criminal justice system. The Committee endorsed the findings of the Hawkins and Misner reports, particularly in relation to public drunkenness statutes, as well as the treatment of juvenile offenders and the mentally ill.

Changes to the Summary Offences Act decriminalised public drunkenness.

The Northern Territory government became the first jurisdiction in Australia to decriminalise public drunkenness, in recognition of the role that public drunkenness statutes played in the Territory's high incarceration rate.


Northern Territory probation service begins

In 1978, the Northern Territory began formalising the administration of corrective services with the establishment of a probationary service.


Fannie Bay Goal closes, and the Darwin Correctional Facility (Berrimah Prison) is opened

Berrimah Prison was designed to address many of the shortcomings of Fannie Bay identified in government inquiries. In particular, the prison provided specialist facilities for juvenile, remand and female prisoners, and the management of the prison was designed to reflect new thinking about prisoner rights and rehabilitation.


The Aboriginal Community Justice Project

The Project was initiated in late 1982 by the Northern Territory Department of Law with the cooperation of the Galiwinku Community Council at Elcho Island. The aim was to provide a justice program which could accommodate customary law and social control mechanisms.


The Northern Territory Department of Corrections is established

The Hawkins and Misner reports had decried the absence of any coordinated management of corrective services in the Territory. In 1984, the government remedied this by establishing a Department of Corrections. Upon establishment, the Department's main priority was to lower the rates of incarceration in the Territory.

The implementation of the Northern Territory Juvenile Justice Act 1984

The enactment of the Juvenile Justice Act in 1984 centralised the juvenile justice functions in the Northern Territory under the Department of Corrections. Previously, juvenile justice services had been administered by child welfare services.


Fine Default Diversionary program begins

This scheme enabled a convicted person to work off a fine through community service. Prior to the introduction of this scheme, fine defaults constituted 30% of prisoners in the Northern Territory. Within two years of the scheme, this had been educed to 17%.

Home detention program begins

During the February/March sittings of the Legislative Assembly, amendments to The Criminal Law (Conditional Release of Offenders) Act were passed to provide for the electronic surveillance of offenders. The Department of Corrections then developed home detention as a punitive sentencing alternative to short-term imprisonment.


Katherine Community Aid Panel established

The Community Aid Panel is available to young offenders who plead guilty. They provide assessment and supervision with the aim of altering life styles, and assisting offenders to make some reparation to victims of crime or to the wider community.

New juvenile rehabilitation facility

King Valley Station, a privately run, state-subsidised juvenile rehab centre, was opened for juveniles with alcohol problems.


New juvenile detention facility opens

A new juvenile detention facility, The Don Dale Detention Centre, is opened, replacing the Malak and Giles Houses.

Legislation introduced so that parents are liable for children's criminal damages (s29a Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act).

This legislation allowed people to sue the parents of children who intentionally cause damage to their property, and it forced parents to contribute to the financial cost of their child's incarceration.


Inquiry into alternative dispute resolution in Aboriginal communities announced

The Aboriginal Disputes Subcommittee of the Northern Territory Law Reform Committee began exploring alternative dispute resolution processes in Aboriginal Communities.


New juvenile rehabilitation centre opens for Aboriginal children

The former juvenile detention facility, Giles House, was reopened as Aranda House under the Central Australian Child Care Agency. The facility provided safe and secure residential accommodation for youth at risk, specialising in counselling, advice and support to Aboriginal youth. Also on offer was a residential placement for young offenders placed on bail supervision as an approved Juvenile Offender Placement, which was funded by the Department of Correction Services on a fee for service basis.


The Aboriginal Law and Justice Strategy

The Strategy was developed by the Territory government, and Indigenous stakeholders, to provide a comprehensive, whole-of-government response to Aboriginal law and justice issues at the Territory, regional and community levels. The strategy has since provided a platform for a range of sentencing and diversionary initiatives in Aboriginal communities.


The Northern Territory  Juvenile Justice Amendment Act (No 2) 1996 came into effect in March 1997 and introduced mandatory imprisonment for juveniles convicted of certain property offences. At the same time amendments to the Northern Territory Sentencing Act (1995) introduced mandatory imprisonment for adults convicted of certain property offences.

Alice Springs Correctional Centre,  a medium and maximum security Australian prison located 25km outside Alice Springs began operating and the old Alice Springs Gaol was decommissioned.


The Aboriginal Disputes Subcommittee report was released

The Aboriginal Disputes Subcommittee of the Northern Territory Law Reform Committee recommended the establishment of an Alternative Dispute Resolution Process.


The first Aboriginal Law and Justice Committee in the Northern Territory commences

Community law and justice committees were a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The first such committee in the Territory began in Ali-Curung in 1996 and other Indigenous communities in 1999 and 2002.  Under the initiative, a Government representative works with the community to establish a law and justice committee and to also report community concerns back to Government. 


Juvenile pre-court diversion scheme introduced

This diversionary scheme gave police the power to divert juveniles charged with minor offences from the court system. Subsequent evaluations (Cunningham 2007) suggest that it was effective at reducing recidivism rates amongst juvenile offenders.


Mandatory sentencing is repealed

Following national and international condemnation, the Territory's controversial mandatory sentencing legislation was repealed.


Northern Territory Law Reform Committee Inquiry into Aboriginal Customary Law published

The Committee made a range of recommendations regarding the integration of Aboriginal customary law into Northern Territory courts, and the government supported the recommendations.

Community Courts commence

The Nhulunbuy (North East Arnhem Land) Community Court commenced in 2003/2004, and it has evaluated well, with many respondents feeling that the Community Court had increased community participation in sentencing.

Wilderness Work Camp at Wildman River closes

This long-running juvenile facility for detainees from remote Aboriginal communities was closed in 2003, and it's horticultural and agricultural programs were integrated into the expanded Don Dale facility. This enabled higher-security prisoners to access these programs.

Parole reforms

Victim and community representatives were integrated into the operations of the parole board.


“Path to Good Corrections” review published

This general review of Northern Territory corrective services largely endorsed existing arrangements, whilst recommending strengthening management and leadership, enhancing staff capacity and skills, and recruiting more indigenous staff. The review also called for broad cultural change in corrections services, particularly moving from a primary focus on security to a primary focus on prisoner rehabilitation. The government endorsed all 71 recommendations.


Youth Justice Act 2005 passed

This Act, which commenced in August 2006, includes a presumption for the diversion of youth in all but the most serious of offences. The Act also established Youth Justice Courts to hear charges against young offenders.


Alcohol courts established

In 2006, the Northern Territory enacted laws to establish an Alcohol Court, which is a specialist court to deal with offenders who are dependent on alcohol. The Court is designed to divert alcohol-dependent offenders from prison and into treatment.

New prisoner rehabilitation facility

“Living Skills Unit” opened at Darwin Correction Centre, at a cost of $7.8 million.  The unit is designed to assist low-risk inmates to learn life skills and assist their integration into society.


A new prison is announced

The government announced that the Berrimah facility will be closed once a new facility, with twice the prisoner capacity, is to be built by 2011.

“Report of the Investigation into complaints from Women prisoners at Darwin Correctional Centre” is released

The Ombudsmen found that the Berrimah facility had failed to identify female prisoners as a group with special needs, and, as a result, there was a “profound lack of services, discriminatory practices, inadequate safeguards against abuse and very little in the way of opportunities to assist women to escape cycles of crime, poverty, substance abuse and family violence.” (Richards 2008)

Parental Responsibility Orders (PRO) come into force

Under this system, parents of repeat juvenile offenders are required to enter a contract to prevent their child from engaging in anti-social behaviour and youth crime. If an order is breached, parents can be fined up to $2000. If a fine is not paid, assets may be seized.