: New prison and prisons legislation for the NT

New prison and prisons legislation for the NT

Tom McCrie
Northern Territory

In 2011 the Northern Territory government commissioned the design, construction and operation of a new NT Secure Facility (‘NTSF’). The NTSF will be a 1048-bed correctional centre including a 30-bed secure mental health and behavioural management facility and a 48-bed pre-release work village.

The NTSF project is a Public Private Partnership (‘PPP’) procurement — only the second PPP in the Northern Territory. A PPP is a long term contract between the public and private sector to deliver infrastructure and related services on behalf of government’s broader service responsibility (as defined in the National PPP Guidelines). A private party was engaged to provide finance, design and construct the infrastructure, and deliver services such as facilities management and maintenance for 30 years, with an option for a further 10 years.

One key benefit of a PPP is that the private party may bear most of the risk associated with financing, designing, building and operating the infrastructure. There is also research 
which indicates that more PPP projects finish ahead or on time than traditional design and construct projects. However, this has not been the case for the NTSF which was due to complete on 30 June 2014, and is now projected to complete in early September.

As a social infrastructure project, the NTSF PPP is essentially a finance lease where the government borrows from the private sector to obtain an asset. On commissioning of the NTSF, the government then makes repayments over the service phase of facility.

To coincide with the scheduled completion of the NTSF, the NT government introduced the Correctional Services Bill 2014 (‘Bill’) which will govern the operation of custodial facilities and management of prisoners throughout the Territory. The Bill will replace the current Prisons (Correctional Services) Act (enacted in 1980) and reflect modern correctional processes including the use of biometric identification systems (the NTSF utilises both fingerprint and retina scan biometric systems).

The Bill was introduced on 19 June 2014 but has not yet been passed by the Legislative Assembly. Submissions on the Bill were received up to a week prior to introduction and raised a number of concerns including that the Bill fails to protect basic rights of prisoners and that aspects of the Bill may be incompatible with Australia’s human rights obligations. One common concern raised in submissions was the absence of an objects clause forming part of the draft Bill.

Another concern raised in a number of submissions was the absence of any provisions explicitly outlining the basic rights and entitlements of prisoners. It was noted that other jurisdictions such as Victoria have clauses which explicitly state that prisoners have rights such as to food, to see a doctor and to practice their religion.

TOM McCRIE is a commercial lawyer with the Northern Territory government.

(2014) 39(3) AltLJ 197
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