Inmates at Bimberi Youth Justice Centre have been spending up to 22 hours a day locked in their cells and not participating in education and physical activity programs, the Canberra Liberals have said.
The continual lockdowns have been occurring since a riot at the detention centre on August 26 and have been caused by severe staff shortages.
A government spokesman said since the incident there had been lockdowns ranging from one to 10 hours, but as they were conducted on a rotational basis detainees only spent part of that time locked in their cells.
Liberal youth and community services spokeswoman Elizabeth Kikkert said the circumstances at Bimberi amounted to serious breaches of the Charter of Rights for Young People.
"I have been told that young detainees, including remandees, are being locked in their rooms up to 22 hours a day and have had limited or even no access to areas outside of their units," Mrs Kikkert said.
"These almost continual lockdowns have seriously impacted access to proper education. I have been told that face-to-face instruction has almost completely ceased.
"Instead detainees are just being given worksheets to do during their long hours of confinement.
"We have laws in this territory that prevent treating animals this poorly. I am deeply worried about the mental health and wellbeing of detainees."
A lawyer with a client detained in Bimberi told The Canberra Times he had been told of inmates locked up for 22 to 23 hours a day. He said scheduled appointments had been delayed for hours or even cancelled due to there being no staff on site to facilitate visits.
Speaking in question time, Children, Youth and Families Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith admitted the riot had taken a toll on staff and had led to staffing issues.
She said there had been extensive lockdowns in the immediate wake of the riot and lockdowns were always "regrettable".
But when asked what contingencies were in place to avoid staffing issues, Ms Stephen-Smith responded, "It is simply not possible to staff a centre the size of Bimberi in the expectation that at some point you might need a whole lot of extra staff."
Official visitor at Bimberi, Chris Redmond confirmed that education programs had been significantly curtailed since the riot.
Mr Redmond said the detainees had not been allowed out of their units to attend the Murrumbidgee Education Unit since the riot.
Bimberi is made up of a number of units in which their individual cells are located, detainees can interact with fellow detainees in their units when not in their cells.
Mr Redmond said the detainees had complained to him and his fellow official visitor about the amount of time they were spending in their units and cells.
He said the detainees, being young people, had an incredible amount of energy and this proved problematic when they were spending so much time in their units.
Mr Redmond said it was a complicated issue and he was sympathetic for staff whose first priority was ensuring the safety of detainees and staff at the centre and were struggling with a lack of numbers.
"No matter what occurred [with the riot], staff need to get things back on track to ensure young people are being properly cared for," he said.
The government spokesman said during lockdowns detainees were in their cells with access to television, reading, recreational activities and educational material.
He said a small number of approved visits had been rescheduled for operational reasons but could not provide a figure.
He did not provide the number of staff currently on leave.
Ms Stephen-Smith said recruitment was underway but that it could not be rushed as staff needed to be appropriately trained.
The Canberra Times understands seven new staff members are about to start their six-week intensive training.