The number of children in the dangerous Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin, Northern Territory has skyrocketed due to harmful new bail reforms. Now, Minister Kate Worden has announced that she will spend at least $2.5 million on Don Dale to ‘refurbish’ ‘non-utilised’ parts of the centre so that more children can be imprisoned.[1]

Don Dale is dangerous. Witnesses on the ground have told Amnesty International Australia that kids need to huddle in corners of their cells to avoid being rained on, and are being forced to stay in their cells for 9-hours a day due to short-staffing.

This time last year, there were only 14 kids in Don Dale on an average day. Now, there’s 32[2] -- and the centre is only set up to fit 25. Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre is also practically at capacity. Thanks to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner in the Territory, we are able to keep a close eye on the increase in numbers each week, and it is staggering.

The government rammed through laws in May - with little-to-no consultation - that removed the presumption of bail for first time offenders and automatically revokes bail if conditions are breached.[3] This means that unsentenced kids are being sent to Don Dale almost automatically, when under international law they should only ever be imprisoned as a last resort. In fact, 83% of kids in detention in the Northern Territory are unsentenced, on remand.[4] 

This is why prison population numbers are sky-rocketing, and prisons are overflowing. Minister Worden’s answer is to expand the prison. She is wrong to do so.

Remember, the Royal Commission into youth justice in the Northern Territory recommended that Don Dale close, and be replaced with a smaller, therapeutic facility -- in 2018!

Instead of spending millions on expanding prisons, Minister Worden needs to do everything she can to keep kids out of prison. Prison doesn’t work. We know that time locked up increases the likelihood of young offenders reoffending and being repeatedly incarcerated in the youth and then adult prison systems.

Indigenous and community-led prevention and diversion programs that address the underlying causes of crime are more effective at reducing reoffending than prison. Instead of kids being harmed in Don Dale, they need to be sent to programs that help them re-engage with school or employment, address underlying trauma and health issues, and set them up to live a healthy, happy life.

Demand Minister Worden to stop the expansion of Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, and reverse the laws that are sending more children to prison.



[1] ABC News, ‘Don Dale to expand years after its closure was recommended, as NT youth detainee numbers rise’, 

[2] Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities, Youth detention census, 

[3] Youth Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (NT)

[4] Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities, Youth detention census