The Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) remains in lockdown today after 27 inmates refused to go into their cells last night and lit four fires across the prison.
An initial fire was lit at around 6:50 pm on Tuesday (10 November) and was quickly put out before three subsequent fires were lit around two hours later. In total, two were lit in external yards and two within cells.
Two cells sustained fire damage and it is not yet known how much more damage was caused by the smoke and water.
CCTV cameras were also damaged by inmates while wooden doors and mattresses were burnt.
No threats were made against corrections personnel and there was no violence between inmates and corrections staff or attending police officers, ACT Corrective Services Commissioner Jon Peach said.
“Our standard protocol is staff withdrew from the area and secured the entire prison,” he said. “On return to the unit, the detainees had exited into a secure yard attached to the unit and started a fire within the unit.
“At about 10 o’clock we secured the detainees in the external yard and negotiated a surrender with the detainees. At no point did they make any threats towards staff.
“They had armed themselves with weapons from inside the unit to the nature of broom handles and the likes, but at no times did they show any violent tendencies towards our staff.”
The incident was resolved peacefully by 10:30 pm. Detainees were moved to new sections of the jail and more permanent accommodation is being sorted after cells have been damaged.
Riot shields were needed to ensure that attending ACT Fire and Rescue personnel could safely put out the fires. They were pelted with “vegetable matter”, Commissioner Peach said.
“These things can spark in jails very, very quickly,” he said. “I think it is fair to say that we have seen an escalation in tension within the jail over the COVID-19 period but we have not seen the same levels of aggression or anxiety from the detainees that we have seen in other jurisdictions until this day.”
The matter is now being investigated by ACT Policing.
Corrections Minister Mick gentleman has also asked the Inspector of Correctional Services to review the incident and provide advice “to better understand what happened”.
“Detainees have been separated and relocated within the AMC and the AMC will remain locked down for the short term to allow for further planning to occur,” Mr Gentleman said.
“I will also be looking carefully at previous reports and data to determine how the Government can ensure that the AMC is an effective prison.”
Assaults have increased in the prison last year but this increase has been in relation to one specific inmate, Commissioner Peach said. There is no indication that the incident was premeditated, he said.
Shadow Police and Emergency Services Minister Giulia Jones identified boredom as one reason for the incident.
“There are very, very significant problems in our prisons including that prisoners spend a huge amount of time locked in their cells,” she told ABC radio this morning.
“It is a matter of staffing and it is a matter of activities in the prison – there are not enough activities. People are bored out of their brains.
“This is not only a human rights issue that the government must address … otherwise these sorts of incidents will continue.”
ACT Policing responded to 112 incidents at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) between 1 November 2019 and 31 October 2020, according to data from the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS).
The incidents included 35 assaults, 27 drug-related incidents and five fire-related incidents.