Youth Detention (ACT) | Armstrong Legal

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This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom - Content Editor - Brisbane

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

Youth Detention (ACT)


The youth detention centre in the ACT is called Bimberi Youth Justice Centre. Children and young people between the ages of 10 and 21 who are remanded or sentenced to detention in the ACT are housed in Bimberi. The facility is operated by the Department of Community Services. The Charter of Rights for Young People in Bimberi sets out the rights and responsibilities of young people while in detention. This article deals with youth detention in the ACT.

Age of criminal liability

In the ACT, as in all Australian jurisdictions, the age of criminal liability is 10. Children younger than 10 who commit acts that would constitute offences if they were committed by an older person are dealt with outside of the criminal justice system.

A person who is aged 10 or older can be arrested or summonsed and charged with criminal offences in the ACT. If found guilty, the young person will be sentenced by the Children’s Court if it is a summary matter, or by a higher court if it is a serious matter to be dealt with on indictment.

There has been a campaign to raise the age of criminal liability in Australia in recent years following controversy about the conditions young people are subjected to in detention centres, particularly Don Dale in the Northern Territory. However, at present, there is no plan to raise the age of criminal liability.

Bail and remand

If a young person is charged with offences and taken into custody in the ACT, they may subsequently be granted bail by the police. If the police do not bail a young person, they must bring them before a court as soon as practicable so that they can apply for bail if they wish to do so.

The court will decide whether to grant bail in light of all the circumstances of the alleged offending and of the young person. The best interests of the young person must always be the paramount consideration.

If a young person is refused bail, they will be held in youth detention until the matter is finalised or until they are granted bail.

Transfer from youth detention to adult prison

If a young person turns 18 while they are in youth detention in the ACT, they may be transferred into adult prison if the director-general orders this. However, under section 111 of the Children and Young People Act 2008, the director-general must not order the transfer of a young person unless satisfied that it is in their best interests. This is to be decided based on:

  • The young person’s views and wishes;
  • The young person’s maturity and history;
  • The young person’s developmental capacity;
  • If the young person is serving a sentence, how long they still have to serve;
  • The young person’s behaviour in detention;
  • Whether the young person is likely to be vulnerable in a correctional centre;
  • The availability of programs and services appropriate for the young person at the correctional centre;
  • Where the young person is more likely to be rehabilitated.

Once a detainee has turned 21, they cannot remain in a youth detention centre and must be transferred to an adult prison.

Treatment in youth detention

Section 138 of the Children and Young People Act 2008 sets out how young detainees must be treated while in detention. Functions of youth detention must be exercised in a way that:

  • Respects and protects the human rights of young detainees;
  • Ensures the young detainee’s just and humane treatment;
  • Precludes torture of cruel or inhumane treatment;
  • Ensures that the young detainee is not subjected to further punishment because of the conditions of detention;
  • Promotes the young person’s reintegration into society;
  • Promotes young offenders’ rehabilitation.
  • Meets minimum standards including the provision of adequate food and drink

Human rights and youth detention

Australia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which contains rights protections for children including children in detention. Article 37 of the Convention states that young people in detention must be treated with humanity and respect and in accordance with the needs of someone of their age. It also stipulated that children who are detained must be separated from adult prisoners and be given prompt access to legal assistance.

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