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Research Guides

Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory

Prisons and remand centres

For much of its early history the Territory had no prisons, as prisoners were housed in NSW gaols, for which the Territory paid an agreed fee.

The first detention centre was the Quamby Children's Remand Centre, located at Symonston, which opened in 1962 and remained in service for more than 25 years. In 2006, the ACT Government announced plans for a new centre located at Mitchell; the Bimberi Youth Detention Centre opened in September 2008. The former Quamby Centre is now used as a periodic detention centre.

In April 1970, Cabinet considered a report recommending the construction of a new Territory prison. The report noted that remand prisoners were held in NSW gaols, and that their families and legal representatives had to travel long distances to see them; this was both costly and unnecessary. Noting that Canberra's crime rate was exceeding the rate of its population increase, the report sought to centralise facilities within the Territory. It recommended a staged approach, with the first stage being a facility to house 80 remand prisoners. Cabinet approved the proposal in principle on 14 July 1970, but wanted further advice on the centre's size and costings, and the standard to which it should be built. Nothing further eventuated until 1973.332

In June 1973, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam's Cabinet considered the construction of a remand centre in Canberra, adjacent to the police station at Belconnen. It approved the proposal in July 1973 and the Belconnen Remand Centre opened in September 1976.333 Convicted prisoners were still sent to NSW gaols.

In 2004, the ACT Government decided to build a new prison in the Territory. It would be named the Alexander Maconochie Centre (after a penal reformer who worked in prisons in Tasmania and Norfolk Island in the 19th century), and would be located at Hume. There was opposition to the establishment of the prison, with some opponents arguing that the Territory's small population did not justify it, and from nearby residents to the proposed location. Nevertheless, construction proceeded and despite delays and cost overruns, the prison opened in September 2008.

With the completion of the centre, the former Belconnen Remand Centre became redundant and closed in April 2009. Remand prisoners are now held at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.334

Belconnen Remand Centre – detainee dossiers, 1976– A8885
Establishment of a prison in the ACT W1984/02340
Proposed establishment of a prison in the ACT W1983/02180
Proposed establishment of a prison in the ACT 69/578
National Archives
Quamby Remand Home, 1960–62 M123, 13
Photograph of Quamby Remand Centre, 1962 A7973, INT663/7
Establishment of a prison in the ACT, 1970 A5869, 225
Future of the Belconnen Remand Centre and Police Station, 1972–90 A431, 1978/1152


Chapter notes | All notes

332 NAA: A5869, 229, 13 April 1970.

333 NAA: A5931, CL518, 20 June 1973.

334 Records relating to the Alexander Maconochie Centre and the Bimberi Youth Detention Centre are not yet publicly available.


Chapter 12
Law and order, emergency services and natural disasters