Four prisoners in one unit had a standoff with guards at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) on Wednesday night (10 March) after refusing to re-enter their cells.
Authorities believe the standoff started when the detainees demanded tobacco.
Doors and windows were damaged during the incident, but no detainees or officers were injured, a Justice and Community Services (JACS) spokesperson confirmed.
“The detainees were secured in an outdoor recreation area of the accommodation unit, and ACT Corrective Services officers commenced negotiations,” the spokesperson said.
The standoff lasted for several hours. Prisoners returned to their cells by 9:30 pm.
The ACT is one of only two Australian jurisdictions that still allows smoking inside its prison, which means inmates can access lighters.
One guard expressed frustration at the frequency small fires were lit in cells, resulting in call-outs by ACT Fire and Rescue. The guard told Region Media that small fires occurred almost daily, sometimes multiple times a day.
According to the Police Realtime Online Management Information System (PROMIS), police responded to five fire-related incidents between 1 November 2019 and 31 October 2020.
Four fires were lit across the prison on a single night last November after 27 inmates refused to return to their cells. Two cells sustained fire damage and wooden doors and mattresses were burnt. Inmates also damaged CCTV cameras.
Western Australia is transitioning to ban smoking in indoor areas, including cells, within its prison. The ACT Government has previously said that while there is a policy to transition the AMC to a smoke-free prison, the policy was not a priority.
Banning smoking in the prison has been on the cards for at least five years. Then-Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury flagged phasing out smoking in 2015.
The ACT Drug Strategy Action Plan, released in 2018, also recommended the Territory move towards smoke-free correctional facilities.