A significant increase in prisoner numbers and staff shortages at the Northern Territory's two youth detention centres have critically impacted the ability to provide basic services to inmates, a report has found.
Some young people are locked in their cells for more than 23 hours a day at the Don Dale and Alice Springs facilities, the NT's Office of the Children's Commissioner says.
"It is unacceptable that young people are being locked in their rooms for extended periods of time due to shortages in staff," Commissioner Sally Sievers said on Thursday.
The commissioner's third independent report into the centres also found both lacked a therapeutic framework to guide operations, which has been an ongoing recommendation since 2020.
"A clear therapeutic model of care is needed to underpin all practice at DDYDC and ASYDC," Ms Sievers said.
"This would significantly increase the safety of both young people and staff and improve the delivery of services."
The commission also found inmates were being denied adequate access to education and medical services due to a lack of staff.
The shortages result in frequent lockdowns and prisoners being confined to their rooms for extended periods of time.
Some inmates were left in their cells for up to 23 hours and 45 minutes per day awaiting medical assessment for self-harm concerns.
"Territory Families, Housing and Communities needs to provide adequate numbers of staff and fully prepare them with trauma-informed training, so that these centres have the ability to help young people address offending behaviour," Ms Sievers said.
The commission made 25 recommendations, including face-to-face education for all detainees and for an Aboriginal advisory group to be involved in an audit.
There were about 60 young people detained in the NT during the February 2021 reporting period.
That's about double what it had been 12 months earlier and included an increase in the number of children under 14. The majority were Indigenous Territorians.
Minister for Territory Families and Urban Housing Kate Worden said there were more than 140 youth justice officers employed across the two centres.
The department scales operations to each centre's needs, allowing the agency to effectively manage staff numbers, bed numbers and room configurations, Ms Worden said.
The territory had the highest ratio of youth justice officers to youth in Australia, with one to two officers per detainee, she added.
In 2017, the final report of a royal commission into the protection and detention of children in the NT revealed systemic and shocking failures, including regular, repeated and distressing mistreatment of young people.
The NT government accepted in full or in principle all 227 recommendations.
Australian Associated Press