13 March 2022

Prison arsonist set fire to his cell to avoid going back into the jail's general population

| Albert McKnight
Alexander Maconochie Centre

Dylan Winters, 23, has been sentenced for causing a fire at the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Photo: File.

A prison arsonist set fire to his cell, causing $24,000 damage, in protest of being sent back into the jail’s general population because he was scared for his own safety.

On Thursday (10 March), the ACT Supreme Court heard Dylan Winters, 23, who was already serving a sentence, partly over a brutal prison bashing in 2018 where he assaulted another detainee, would have to serve more time over the fire he started.

Court documents say that on 15 October 2020, he was told his classification for protection had been reviewed and he would be moved from the management unit in the Alexander Maconochie Centre into the prison’s general population.

But he told Corrections staff he wouldn’t be safe in the general population.

“I’m going to have to do what I need to do to stay in management,” he said.

Later, he was in his cell when he got his property box, put toilet rolls inside it, placed it against the main door and used a lighter to set it on fire.

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Staff saw the flames inside his cell and rushed to put it out with a hose, with Acting Justice Peter Berman commending them for stopping the fire from spreading, which could have threatened other people inside the jail.

“He apparently thought little of the consequences for others if the fire had spread,” he said.

After Winters lit the fire, he went into the external yard of his cell and for the next hour put holes in the fascia board above a door, pulled out insulation and smashed a light, causing a further $1000 in damage.

It took me ages to smash that,” he told staff.

His Legal Aid lawyer, Sam McLaughlin, said his actions were an act of desperation and he had immediately told authorities about the fire.

He said Winters had been terrified of other people and was desperate to remain in the more segregated environment of the management unit.

But Crown prosecutor Sam Bargwanna said being moved between units in jail was “just a normal part of prison life”.

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Winters pleaded guilty to arson and was sentenced to eight months’ jail, suspended after he served four for a two-year good behaviour order.

The four months was added on top of his current sentence, which was due to expire on 31 March 2022, so he will be released from custody in August 2022.

Acting Justice Berman declined to make a reparations order for the damage, which had been sought by the prosecution, due to Winters’ personal circumstances.

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