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Contributed by JohnRawnsley, Sam Dutaillis and Caitlin Burke and current to 1 May 2016

In the NT the main legislation governing prison matters is the Correctional Services Act 2014 NT (CSA) and Correctional Services Regulations 2014 (CSR).

There is a common view that prisoners lose their rights by the fact that they are in prison. Whilst this is true to the extent of rights available to people not in prison, there are a range of laws and rules governing how prisoners are managed, and what rights and responsibilities prisoners and Correctional Services and other agencies have. Some of these rights and responsibilities are explained to prisoners at the induction stage. However, it is also important prisoners are able to familiarize themselves with the full extent of rights and responsibilities for themselves and also prison administration and services.

There are a range of sources of information affecting prisoner rights including the Act and Regulations, Manuals such as the Sentence Management Manual and Commissioner Directives and Policies. These are generally available to prisoners and ought to be made available upon request to relevant support services.

Other laws in the NT also related to prison matters include (but are not limited to):
  • Mental Health And Related Services Act
  • Youth Justice Act
  • Sentencing Act
  • Parole Act
  • Criminal Code Act
  • Information Act
  • Prisoners (Interstate Transfer) Act, Prisoners (Interstate Transfer) Regulations
  • Serious Sex Offenders Act
  • Correctional Services (non-custodial orders) Regulations
Decisions of Courts can also affect the rights of prisoners.

Aims of Imprisonment

NT Prisons

In the NT, custodial correctional centres include correctional centres (such as a prison) or court custody centre (such as connected to a court) or police custody centre (such as a remote Police station) (s 11 CSA).

The Darwin Correctional Precinct is the largest prison and was opened at the end of 2014. It has a 1048 bed capacity and includes a pre-release work village and Complex Behaviour Unit. Some parts of the Darwin Correctional Precinct are at full capacity.

The Alice Springs Correctional Centre is designed for 400 male and female maximum, medium and minimum security prisoners with a separate section for low security male prisoners.

The Datjala Work Camp in Nhulunbuy and Barkly Work Camp in Tennant Creek are for open security rated prisoners.

Who is in control?

The Commissioner for Correctional Services appointed by the Minister (s17 (1) CSA) has responsibility for the overall control and management of correctional services establishments, offenders, and persons accommodated at custodial correctional facilities who are not prisoners (s18 CSA) .

The Commissioner has the 'powers necessary to perform the Commissioner's functions' (s19 (1) CSA) and may do anything the Commissioner considers appropriate in order to maintain the security and good order of correctional services establishments and offenders' (s19 (2) CSA). The Commissioner can delegate a power or function to another person (s20 CSA).

The Commissioner may appoint:

  • General Managers (s 21) of Correctional Centres
  • General Managers of Police Custody Centres and Court Custody Centres (s 22)
  • Regional Managers (s 23)
  • Correctional Officers (s 24)
  • Probation and Parole Officers (s 25)
  • Volunteers (s 33, 34)

Types of prisoners

A prisoner can only be held in prison on a warrant or court order. There are three types of prisoners:
  • Sentenced prisoner: a sentenced prisoner is an offender serving a prison term imposed by a court. In some cases a court can fix a non-parole period, a minimum period of time a prisoner must serve before being eligible for conditional release (see Parole ). In some cases, a court can also order a prisoner released, subject to them entering into a good behaviour bond for a specified period of time (see Sentencing ). A prisoner who has appealed against a sentence (a prison term) is treated as a sentenced prisoner.
  • Remand prisoner: a remand prisoner is a person who has been refused bail by a court and ordered to be held in custody while waiting to be tried or sentenced. Remand prisoners are usually held in the prisons. A prisoner who has appealed against a conviction (a declaration of guilty as charged) and not yet been sentenced is treated as a remand prisoner, unless a warrant of imprisonment has been issued by the courts.
  • Commonwealth prisoner: a Commonwealth prisoner is a person who has committed an offence under Commonwealth legislation.
To the extent practical, sentenced prisoners should be kept separate from other prisoners, male prisoners kept separate from female prisoners and youth prisoners (as distinct from youth detainees) should be kept separate to adult prisoners (s40 CSA). However, in the NT, sentenced female prisoners are generally not separate to remand female prisoners as their numbers are small.

Children in prison

Darwin Correctional Precinct is the only prison in the NT with facilities for women prisoners.

At the request of the female prisoner, the Commissioner may consent to the child residing at a custodial correctional facility with the prisoner (s57 CSA). This is if the child was born whilst the female was a prisoner, or at the time the female prisoner became a prisoner she had parental responsibility for the child as a mother or under a court order (s57 CSA). Assistance or advice should be sought in the event a female prisoner wants to have their child at a custodial correctional facility.

Prison life

Where a prisoner stays

Prisoners can come from any part of the NT or elsewhere. The Commissioner has the power to decide where a prisoner stays, and can decide if a prisoner is transferred (s. 38). A prisoner can request a transfer by filling out the request form. They are then placed on a waiting list. If there are good reasons for requesting a transfer, such as access to programs, or to be closer to home or family, or it is getting closer to release, or another good reason then this should be made clear in the request. If the transfer request is approved and there is a good reason why it should happen at a sooner date then a person can be fast-tracked for the transfer.

For an interstate prison transfer and to another State a request can be made by the prisoner. The Minister from the Northern Territory and the relevant Minister from the State subject to the transfer request need to consent to the transfer. The process can take up to and beyond a year. Assistance or advice should be sought.

No smoking cigarrettes inside the prison

Cigarrettes are contraband inside the Darwin Correctional Precinct. For prisoners who are out on day release and in the community they are entitled to smoke cigarrettes however cannot bring cigarrettes back into the prison.

Security classifications

Once a person is sentenced to prison, within 8 weeks the Sentence Management section reviews a prisoners security classification rating and formulate a sentence plan. A prisoner can be classified as maximum, medium, low or open. The lower the security rating, the more privileges and less security regimes apply.

The Sentence Management Manual guides the Sentence Management section in identifying a suitable security classification rating. The Security section of a prison can determine the final security classification rating based on security information not available to the prisoner or other sections of the prison. The Security section has the power to override the guidance provided by the Sentence Management Manual.

Health Care

The NT Department of Health and the Commissioner are responsible for providing appropriate health care to prisoners [CSA ss.82, 88(2)]. Prisoners must have access to healthcare that is of a standard avaliable to the general public [CSA s.93]. If a prisoner is concerned they are not receiving adequate public health care, they can talk a lawyer or representative.

Assessment on Arrival

At reception, every prisoner will receive a comprehensive medical assessment, including blood tests. If a prisoner has trouble with eyesight or hearing, they need to fill our a form to submit to the clinic.

Illness or Injury

Doctors and Nurses are available on site seven days a week and are on-call for after-hours emergencies. Prisoners who need medical attention need to fill out a form detailing symptoms, which is submitted to the health practitioner on call. A triage system works to ensure that the most unwell prisoners are treated first.

A Dentist and Optometrist will attend the prisons once a month and handle any issues submitted by prisoners. Any emergencies in between visits will be dealt with on a case by case basis.

The law says that health care can be administered without consent if prison management or a health practitioner believes that failure to accept the treatment is likely to cause serious harm to the prisoner or others [CSA ss.92, 93].

If required, correctional officers may use reasonable force to assist the medical practitioner in administering medication [CSA s.93(4)].


If the health practitioner believes that the prison is not able to provide the necessary health care or specialist treatment is required, they will recommend that prison management make arrangements to transport a prisoner to an appropriate facility [CSA ss.85, 86]. Royal Darwin Hospital and Alice Springs Hospital have outpatient clinics where prisoners are treated.

If a prisoner requires observation overnight, they will be admitted to hospital and placed under 24-hour guard by prison officers. In some circumstances a prisoner's custody may be assigned to hospital authorities.

Costs and Medicine

All health care expenses in prison are covered by the Northern Territory Government. None of the treatment costs inside prison are claimed through Medicare.
If a prisoner requires prosthetic aids such as hearing aids, glasses, dental products or shoes, the prison will pay. However, if a prisoner is on remand or has less than 3 months to serve, the cost of these items will not be covered.

Personal Health Information

Prison management may request that the Department of Health provide current health information about a prisoner [CSA s.89(1)]. This is information that might be needed for administering appropriate care, managing the prisoner and preventing deterioration of medical conditions [CSA s.89(4)].

Information that the Commissioner can request includes health conditions and risks, the likelihood of significant health problems, symptoms associated with conditions and any documented treatment plans [CSA s.89(4)].

Giving Birth

If a prisoner is pregnant, the management must arrange for transfer to a health care facility to give birth [CSA s.90].

Critical Illness or Death

Prison management must inform the Commissioner as soon as a prisoner becomes critically ill or dies. The commissioner will then take steps to notify the coroner, the prisoner's family and lawyer [CSA s91].

Offences committed by others

Prison related offences can be committed by people who are not prisoners. Some of these include:
  • Harboring or aiding a prisoner who has escaped [Criminal Code ss.111. 114]
  • Loitering near a prison [CSA s.149]
  • Unlawfully entering a prison [CSA s142(3)(notes)]
  • Passing or receiving anything to or from a prisoner [CSA s176]

A person convicted of any of these offences may face serious fines or imprisonment for up to 2 years.
If a person is reasonably suspected by prison officers to be engaging in these offences, they may use reasonable force to arrest and detain them on the premises.

Escaping from lawful custody

A prisoner is in lawful custody when:
  • within prison boundaries
  • being taken to or from a prison or police prison by an officer or member of the police force
  • lawfully outside a prison or police prison, such as for attending court or hospital or on special purpose leave
  • under the control of a prison officer or member of the police force.
A sentence imposed for escaping or attempting to escape from lawful custody is served cumulatively and at the end of an original sentence [Criminal Code s.112]. The original offence being served in prison will determine the length of time added by the attempted escape [Criminal Code, s.112(2)]. A prisoner who commits a crime beyond the breach of the regulations, such as assault, is dealt with in the normal manner; that is, they are charged by police and taken to court.

Prisoner Property

The Commissioner will decide what kinds of things a prisoner is allowed to have in their possession [CSA, ss. 43, 44]. Allowable items may include legal documents for court matters, hobby items and civilian clothes for pending release. Prisoners are usually allowed to hold around 4 photos.

If prisoners are found with property that is not permitted, prison management can dispose, remove or confiscate the item [CSA, s.45]. If correctional officers reasonably think that something might be connected with an offence, prohibited or dangerous, they can confiscate it [CSA, s.46].

Management can declare a certain thing prohibited, but they must display a notice at the entrance to the facility identifying the item [CSA, ss.160, 161].

Legal documents that belong to prisoners can only be inspected by certain people [CSA s.151]. Correctional Officers are not allowed to read or open legal documents when they find them [CSA, s.153(2)(a)]. The same applies for protected items; which are usually mail or documents passed between prisoners and a 'protected correspondent' [CSA s.151].

If a correctional officer finds a protected or legal document during a search of a prisoner or their belongings, they must pass it onto a manager who will decide who is allowed to read it [CSA ss.153, 156(1)]. If it is a legal document, a lawyer has to read it [CSA s.156(2)].

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