Section 3: Prisons

Current facilities

Alice Springs Correction Centre

  • Classification: Maximum/Medium/Minimum, male and female
  • Capacity: 316 (main centre), 84 (low, open cottages outside)
  • Function: Main maximum security facility in the Northern Territory, Alice Springs services most of the southern parts of the Northern Territory.

Alice Springs Correctional Centre is situated approximately twenty five kilometers south of Alice Springs, along the Stuart Highway. It has been operating since 1996 and is the Territory's principal maximum security facility. The centre accommodates male prisoners of all security ratings with the capacity for short-term accommodation of female prisoners.
Alice Springs Correctional Centre has a total capacity for 400 prisoners, with 316 beds within the secure perimeter fence and eighty four beds in the low security Cottages located outside the main fence. The Cottages operate with minimal officer supervision and prisoners accommodated there are responsible for their own cooking and cleaning.

Due to the Centre's relatively remote location 25kms from the Alice Springs township, additional low security cottages were built outside the main security perimeter.  These cottages, constructed prior to the main prison complex, won the best Public/Institutional Building Design Award in 1995 by the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (NT Chapter).

Alice Springs Correctional Centre has historically only held female prisoners on a very short term basis and generally only on remand, but this has been changing in recent years as pressure on the women's facilities in Darwin has grown (Richards 2008).

Darwin Correction Centre (Berrimah)

  • Classification: Maximum/Medium/Minimum, male and female
  • Capacity: 400
  • Function: Main reception prison in the Northern Territory, Berrimah services most of the northern and metropolitan regions. The facility also holds illegal immigrants and is a general processing point for those subject to deportation.

Darwin Correctional Centre is situated 16km from the Darwin CBD and is a multi-classification prison with a capacity for 450 prisoners. Completed in 1979 with an opening capacity of 110 beds, it has grown over the years to become the main reception prison in the Northern Territory.

Facilities exist for housing remand and sentenced adult males, remand and sentenced adult females. Darwin Correctional Centre holds illegal immigrants and is generally the processing point for those subject to deportation on behalf of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. A new low security facility known as the Living Skills Unit has recently been completed at Darwin Correctional Centre with a capacity for up to 130 low security prisoners.

The government has recently announced that Berrimah will be closed in 2011, and all prisoners will be transferred to a new prison, which is still in the planning stages.

Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre

The Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre is a medium to high security institution located at Berrimah, adjacent to the Darwin Correctional Centre. It has a capacity for up to 38 juveniles of both sexes. It is the main centre for the detention of juveniles within the Northern Territory.

The Centre operates a structured program of behavioural management and case management of detainees in support of offender rehabilitation that includes post release options. In 2003, the centre's facilities were expanded to include an open air environmental facility that enabled the centre to run horticultural programs previously available at the Wilderness Work Camp.

Alice Springs Juvenile Holding Centre

The Alice Springs Juvenile Holding Centre is a medium to high security institution located within the Aranda House complex in Alice Springs. It has a capacity of up to 10 juveniles of either sex. It is designed for use as a short-term holding/remand centre for up to four days. If a juvenile is sentenced or remanded to a longer period he/she is transferred to the Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre in Darwin until their release or further Court appearance. The Centre has only one permanent staff member, who performs alternate duties within Community Corrections when the Centre is not in use. Remaining staff requirements are met from an established pool of casual employees.

Defunct prisons

Fannie Bay jail

Fannie Bay Goal operated as Her Majesty's Goal and Labour Prison in Darwin from 20 September 1883 until 1 September 1979. The original building comprises Blocks A and B containing sixteen stone cells, and a kitchen and a wash house. The Infirmary was added in 1887 and contains the gallows installed for the last executions held in the Territory in 1952. A separate cell block for female prisoners was added in 1928, and a watch tower, "native section" for Aboriginal prisoners, kitchen mess building, remand section and two maximum security wings were added during the 1950s.

A census taken on 2 December 1974 found that the most common crimes for male inmates were stealing, or breaking and entering and stealing. This was followed by assault and robbery, sexual offences, or motor vehicle offences. Women were most commonly admitted for drug offences (Weir 1974).

Steady increase in prison numbers throughout the 1970s. Monthly average number of prisoners was just under 100 in October 1971, by March 1972 this had risen to just under 164 prisoners. During this month, prisoner numbers peaked in one day to 176 prisoners. (Dewar 1999) After the establishment of Gunn Point Reserve, daily mail population of the jail was reduced to one hundred and two by March 1973, with seven female prisoners.

Inmates were unlocked at eight in the morning and locked up again before five o clock. Inmates could be housed in single cells or communal cells within a cell block. Contact with family and friends was limited. Prisoners could write one letter a week, although subject matter was prescribed, and mail was censored (ingoing and outgoing). The press was barred from the facility at al times. There was limited access to medical services, and generally no psychiatric help.

Fannie Bay was traditionally a “labour prison”, however, the work program collapsed in the 1970s, and there were only sporadic attempts to engage prisons in educational or work (Dewar 1999). Hawkins and Misner stated “The result is that any rehabilitation is purely accidental”. (Hawkins and Misner 1974)  Dewar describes the labour program at Fannie Bay as a “complete failure”, since the prisoners had a low educational attainment, and prison staff were not trained to teach inmates industrial skills. Prisoners had little to occupy their time during the day.

In the early 1970s, Fannie Bay was the subject of three key inquires: The Hawkins/Misner Report, the Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council, and the report of the NT Corrective Services Facilities Committee. These reports all pointed to the need to improve accommodation and facilities, and to develop a parole and probation service. The facilities at Fannie Bay were generally considered inadequate. The buildings were almost a century old during the 1970s, and described as, “primitive”, “dilapidated”, and an “eye-sore” (Weir 1974; Muirhead 1996). Submissions and government reports frequently recommended the closure of the facility and relocation of prisoners (Ward 1974).

Gunn Point Reserve

The Reserve, a low-security farm prison facility, was proposed by the Comptroller of Prisons, TO Fegan, in 1972, due to his concern over escalating prisoner numbers at Fannie Bay:

Such a high number brings with it a variety of complications e.g. crowded dormitories, utilisation as dormitories of gaol buildings normally used for other activities (education centre), insufficient eating areas. (Fegan quoted in Dewar 1999)

Fegan proposed the establishment of a prison farm at Gunn Point Reserve, about seventy kilometres out of Darwin, with an emphasis on prison labour. The project was designed to reduce pressure on Fannie Bay, and to provide more meaningful employment for the prisoners.

The project began in November that year, a low security institution with about 40 prisoners and guards in “primitive” conditions. A visitor from the Prisoners Aid group commented favourably on the facility in 1973, and so too did Hawkins and Misner in their 1973 review.

Pressure on the facility grew after Fannie Bay Gaol was shut down in 1979. In 1984, the facility was rated as having the capacity to house 60 inmates. It was closed down in 1996.

Defunct juvenile justice facilities

Previous juvenile justice facilities in the Northern Territory include the Giles, Malak and Wilderness Work Camp.