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Imprisonment (ACT)

The ACT has only one adult prison facility, which is the public operated Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC), located on the Monaro Highway in Hume. AMC has been operating since 2009, before which ACT prisoners were sent to New South Wales prisons. AMC houses both those sentenced to imprisonment and those being held on remand. It is the first Australian prison to be built to meet our human rights obligations.

The ACT also has a youth detention facility, Bimberi Youth Justice Centre, in Canberra.


Under the Bail Act 1992, a person who is charged with an offence and refused bail is held on remand. This occurs initially in the police cells, with the person transferred to prison as soon as practicable. A prisoner who is on remand remains in custody until they are either granted bail, found not guilty, or sentenced. If a person on remand is sentenced to imprisonment, the sentence will generally be backdated to the date they first came into custody.

Sentences of imprisonment

Under Section 10 of the Crimes (Sentencing) Act 2005, ACT courts may sentence a person to imprisonment if they are satisfied that no other penalty is appropriate. Sentences of imprisonment are to be served by full-time detention unless the court orders otherwise or the offender is released from full-time detention by an ACT law.

When an offender is sentenced to imprisonment for more than one offence, there is a presumption that the sentences will be served concurrently.  However, a court can order that sentences be served consecutively (or partly consecutively and partly concurrently).

Suspended sentences

Under Section 12 of the Crimes (Sentencing) Act, when a court sentences a person to imprisonment, it may order that the term of imprisonment be suspended in whole or in part. When a sentence is suspended, the offender is required to sign an undertaking to be of good behaviour for the operational period of the order. The offender will be required to refrain from committing further offences and to comply with other conditions the court may impose, such as to abstain from alcohol and drugs, as appropriate in the circumstances. If an offender on a suspended sentence commits a further offence punishable by imprisonment, they will generally be ordered to serve the term of imprisonment that was suspended.


The Crimes (Sentencing) Act 2005 requires ACT courts to set a non-parole period for offenders sentenced to 12 months imprisonment or more unless it is inappropriate to do so. The non-parole period of the sentence must be served in prison, after which the offender can apply to the Sentence Administration Board for parole. If parole is granted, the offender may serve the rest of the sentence living in the community under the close supervision of corrections and subject to strict conditions.

When the Board receives an application for parole, it may conduct an inquiry and invite submissions. If the Board is not persuaded to parole the offender based on the documents before it, then it must conduct a hearing, which the offender may attend. If the Board makes a Parole Order, it may impose a wide range of conditions, for example, that the offender may not travel overseas.

If a person on parole is found guilty of an offence punishable by imprisonment, the Sentence Administration Board must cancel their Parole Order. When a person breaches the conditions of their Parole Order, the Board may take no action, issue a warning, change the offender’s conditions, give the Director-General directions about the offender’s supervision, or cancel the Parole Order.

Recent developments

The ACT prison system was recently reported to be the country’s most expensive, with $436 spent per inmate per day in 2016-17 (52 per cent higher than the national average). As in all states and territories, there is a high rate of Indigenous incarceration, with Indigenous Canberrans 12.4 time more likely to be in prison than non-Indigenous residents. In May 2016, an Indigenous inmate passed away, sparking the Moss Review, which reported to parliament in February 2018 on changes made to the prison system since the death.

The Moss Review recommendations included that the ACT police prioritise investigating any assaults that take place within the AMC, that an Aboriginal health care provider be integrated with the health service in the prison and that a separate remand facility be established to ensure remanded prisoners are held separately from sentenced prisoners. Some of these recommendations have been fully implemented while others are still ongoing.

If you require legal advice or representation in relation to a criminal matter or any other legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.


Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.

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