The Queensland Government is committed to keeping our community safe, supporting victims, actively tackling the complex causes of youth crime and targeting serious repeat offenders. To create safer communities, and target serious repeat offenders, the Department of Youth Justice intends to increase youth detention centre capacity by building a new youth detention centre in Cairns.

Consultation will present the opportunity to develop a new youth detention centre in accordance with the needs of the community. Our vision for the youth detention centre goes beyond just addressing infrastructure needs; it's about creating a hub for positive change within the Cairns community.

Here's what you can expect from this new facility:

We acknowledge the legitimate concerns surrounding youth crime in Cairns. Our approach is comprehensive, supporting victims and combining early interventions with proactive measures aimed at prevention and rehabilitation. The detention centre will serve as a crucial intervention point, providing necessary support and services to young offenders while holding them accountable for their actions.

Cairns is already home to a range of programs and services dedicated to supporting young people and addressing the root causes of offending behaviour. The new detention centre will complement these existing efforts, providing an additional layer of support and intervention contributing to positive outcomes for young people and the broader community.

The construction and operation of the detention centre will bring a significant economic boost to Cairns. The development phase alone is forecasted to create around 480 jobs over 3 years, and generate additional revenue for local businesses, while the ongoing operation of the centre will provide employment opportunities across various sectors, including healthcare, education, and administration. Additionally, as part of our commitment to maximising the benefits for the local community, we will prioritise sourcing goods and services locally, further bolstering the regional economy.

An expansion of Queensland's youth detention capacity is urgently required to address the current and growing demand for youth justice facilities capable of supporting the complex needs of young people.

Key benefits from the proposed development of the new youth detention centre in Cairns are:

  • reduction in overcrowding of youth detention centres and prolonged stays in Queensland Police Service watchhouses while young people await admission to a youth detention centre
  • improved safety and security of youth detention centres and reduced violence as well as risks of injuries in detention, for both staff and young people
  • tailored and targeted intensive therapeutic interventions and programming to treat offending behaviour for those young people who reside in the Cairns and surrounding North Queensland communities.

Establishing a youth detention centre in Cairns presents a significant opportunity for the families of the young people involved. Currently, these young people are transported to the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville (or sometimes down to facilities in Brisbane), which often disrupts their ability to maintain regular contact with their families, communities, and to Country. By locating the detention centre closer to Cairns, we aim to facilitate stronger family connections and community support networks during detention and when transitioning back into community, which we know are crucial factors in aiding these young people to turn their lives around.

At every step of the way, community engagement and collaboration are paramount. We are committed to working closely with the Traditional Owners of the lands—the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji People, local stakeholders, service providers, and the community to ensure that the establishment of the detention centre is carried out in a manner that reflects the needs and values of Cairns residents.

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About the centre

The new youth detention centre in Cairns will include therapeutic design elements which aim to support rehabilitation for young people and improve community safety.

The features of the centre will include:

  • 40 beds
  • smaller, more home-like accommodation units (8 or fewer beds per unit) purpose-built to encourage young people, staff, and stakeholders to work together
  • consultation and treatment rooms
  • multipurpose spaces for education, skills development and training
  • areas for physical activity, green spaces
  • spaces for cultural connection, faith and spiritual support.

Centre statistics

Smaller, home-like accomodation units

40-bed capacity

Contemporary therapeutic design to support rehabilitation


The Queensland Government is currently exploring potential locations for the centre, including undertaking appropriate due diligence and site investigations, with careful consideration for community input and guidance from the local Traditional Owners. Our aim is to choose a site that best serves both the community and the environment, minimising any potential impact on nearby residents.

The potential locations under consideration have been chosen based on various criteria, including:

  • sufficiently distant from high-density residential areas
  • close to families and support services
  • close to an available workforce
  • sufficiently close to court, police, health and youth justice services
  • trunk infrastructure availability (e.g. roads, power, water, sewerage, telecommunications)
  • natural screening of the site to minimise visibility and disturbance.

Proposed design

We have engaged architects to lead the design of the new centre. The centre will reflect contemporary design and emulate best-practice principles, including trauma-informed design, relational security, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and carceral geography. Biophilia (incorporating elements of nature) and First Nations knowledge and culture will be reflected in the built environment.

A strong focus on therapeutic design will provide a normalised environment, incorporating natural spaces helps to facilitate connections to family, kin and community, while remaining balanced with the need for robustness and serviceability.

The centre's contemporary design will support rehabilitation outcomes and improve community safety.

Safe and effective detention settings

Youth detention centres play a crucial role in the management, rehabilitation and reintegration of young offenders into our communities.

Research shows that internationally and in Australia, safer and more effective youth detention centres are those with smaller, rehabilitative and normalised environments rather than the traditional larger centres modelled on adult prisons. It also shows that a shift towards more therapeutic approaches to detention will support improved community safety and improved results for young people. A holistic approach focused on rehabilitation that considers the unique circumstances and challenges faced by young offenders will contribute to reduced recidivism.

One of the key features of a therapeutic model is the emphasis on mental health support. Many young offenders have experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect, which can contribute to their involvement in criminal activities.

Although therapeutic, this is a place to consider the consequences of an offence. Evidence-informed programs and services at the centre will aim to help young people take responsibility and be held accountable for their actions. They will promote the restoration of relationships and encourage positive choices.

The centre will promote prosocial values and behaviours, which evidence shows can lead to improved outcomes such as reduced rates of arrests and detention and lower rates of recidivism. Young people will be helped to be aware of their behaviour and encouraged to make good decisions by promoting and reinforcing good behaviour. By setting clear boundaries and consequences for inappropriate behaviour, youth detention centres aim to teach accountability and responsibility. Young people will be treated with respect and dignity at all times and encouraged to treat others with respect and dignity.

Finding the right balance of welfare, justice and security is essential in creating an environment that promotes growth and accountability among young people in detention, reduces reoffending risks and protects the community.

Have your say

We welcome input from young people, key stakeholders and service providers, local Elders and the community. Your contributions will make a difference to the design and function of the centre.

Provide feedback on the facility and the centre's operations.

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Working at the new youth detention centre

Becoming a Detention Youth Worker offers a challenging and rewarding opportunity to directly contribute to community safety, while supporting young people in custody to make better choices.

Positions will become available before the centre is operational (currently forecast to be in 2027) and will be advertised on SmartJobs.

Learn more about detention youth worker careers.

Last updated 30 April 2024

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