The Northern Territory government has formalised funding for vocational education and training to be delivered in Territory prisons in the midst of controversy surrounding the NT prison system, with overcrowding and a lack of heat control, as well as issues with staffing, all prevalent.
The partnership between the NT government and Charles Darwin University (CDU), worth $1.7 million per year, will expand on the education and training courses at correctional facilities in Darwin and Alice Springs. The contract is initially for two-years, with an extension possible by mutual agreement.
It is understood CDU has stepped into the fold with the NT government after a previous institution ended their partnership.
The NT currently has the highest incarceration rates per capita in the country with 1127 people per 100,000 incarcerated on any one day in the September quarter of 2023. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, this number was 3487 per 100,000 people.
This month, data showed 2,217 people were incarcerated in the NT - almost 1 per cent of the population. About 41 per cent were on remand.
Advocates have long called for changes to the system, arguing the cycle of incarceration has only continued to increase.
Earlier this month, the Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) said the riots on Boxing Day in Alice Springs showed the need for new programs to divert people away from incarceration.
"The justice system is broken in the NT and the underlying social problems are getting worse ... and rehabilitation just isn't possible in crowded, 40-degree prisons without adequate programs, air-conditioning or facilities," NAAJA acting chief executive Darryl Pearce said.
The new education partnership is designed to help prisoners transition into life when they are released.
Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Chansey Paech, said education was one step in helping to reduce offending and imprisonment rates.
"Qualifications and accreditations from CDU are widely recognised across the Northern Territory, and will not only prepare prisoners to become work ready but will improve their scope of post-release employment," Minister Paech said.
"CDU's expertise in providing vocational education and training is well established, and this contract is an investment in skills development and training opportunities which will help set prisoners on a better path towards reducing future contact with the justice system."
The NT government said the partnership will allow prisoners to undertake a range of nationally accredited qualifications; skillets; and competency units in retail, hospitality, trade, arts and health sectors.
National Indigenous Times contacted NAAJA for comment.