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Indefinite Sentences (NT)

In the Northern Territory, courts have the power to impose an indefinite sentence of imprisonment on a person who has been found guilty of certain categories of violent offence. Indefinite sentences must only be imposed where the court considers a person to be a serious danger to the community. This article deals with indefinite sentences in the NT.

Offences that can attract indefinite sentences

NT courts can impose indefinite sentences in relation to offences that involve actual violence or the attempted use of violence and that carry a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life. Examples of offences that fall into this category are murder, manslaughter and aggravated robbery.

Courts may only do so if satisfied that the offender is a danger to the community because of:

  • Their antecedents, health, mental condition, age or character;
  •  The severity of the violent offence;
  • Any special circumstances.

The court must consider the following matters in determining whether a person is a serious danger to the community:

  • Whether the offence is exceptional in nature;
  • The person’s age, antecedents and character;
  • Any medical, psychiatric, custodial or other report in relation to the person;
  • The risk of serious physical harm to community members if an indefinite sentence were not imposed and the need to protect the community from that risk.

Court process

An indefinite sentence is imposed on application by the prosecution. The prosecution bears the onus of proving that the offender is a serious risk to the community.

A court may find that a person is a serious danger to the community only if there is acceptable and cogent evidence and it is satisfied to a high degree of probability (section 71).


When a court imposes an indefinite sentence, it must also specify a nominal sentence. This is the term of imprisonment that would have been imposed had the indefinite sentence not been imposed. When the offender has served half of their nominal sentence (or, if their nominal sentence is for life, when they have served 13 years), the court must start reviewing the indefinite sentence every two years.  

After the court has completed its first review, an offender may also apply to the court for a review on the grounds that there are exceptional circumstances.

Discharge of indefinite sentences

When the court reviews an indefinite sentence, it must discharge it unless satisfied that the offender still poses a serious danger to the community.  If this occurs, the court must impose a sentence for the offence that is not less than the nominal sentence.


If the court does not discharge an indefinite sentence when it is reviewed, the offender can appeal against this decision to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal can discharge the indefinite sentence or confirm it.

Reintegration program

A person who has had their indefinite sentence discharged and been resentenced can apply to be released into a reintegration program designed to assist them to reintegrate into the community. Such a program may include education, training or other activities and must be for a duration of at least five years.  

NT prisons

The main prison in the Northern Territory is Darwin Correctional Centre, which is located on Willard Road, Holtze, about 30 kilometres east of Darwin. The prison houses men and women who have been sentenced to imprisonment or remanded in custody and has a capacity of 1048.

The prison is not serviced by public transport. However, the Salvation Army runs a shuttle bus service so that family members without private transport can get to the prison for visits.

There are two juvenile detention centres in the NT. These are Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Berrimah and the Alice Springs Juvenile Holding Centre in Alice Springs. These centres house young people between the ages of 10 and 17 who have been sentenced to detention or remanded in custody.  

If you require legal advice or representation in any 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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