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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Another riot at Canberra’s prison

The Alexander Maconochie Centre, ACT’s troubled prison, was the scene of another riot this week.

On Wednesday evening, 28 detainees behaved aggressively and refused to comply with Corrections Officers’ directions, stated a Justice and Community Safety Directorate (JACS) spokesperson.

The matter was resolved when officers successfully negotiated with the detainees, who complied with their directions, the spokesperson said. 

Questioned about the incident in the Legislative Assembly the following day, Minister for Corrections Mick Gentleman thanked corrections officers for acting quickly and professionally to resolve the incident.

No staff were injured. All detainees involved were medically assessed before being re-housed, and no one required hospital admission.

Mr Gentleman said there was minor damage to some of the cells. He did not have an estimation of the costs at the time.

ACT Fire & Rescue, ACT Ambulance Service, and ACT Policing provided support. ACT Corrective Services is investigating the incident.

The riot follows an incident in November when 27 detainees lit fires in prison yards and cells, and armed themselves with broom handles and other everyday items.

The prison has also been accused of racism against Aboriginal inmates (including allegedly strip-searching a rape survivor this year), while prison staff have been brutally attacked.

Elizabeth Kikkert, Shadow Corrections Minister, accused the government of downplaying this week’s riot, as they did in November.

Ms Kikkert claimed that Mr Gentleman did not provide many details when questioned. Last year, JACS revealed only a few details 12 hours afterwards.

“The government was forced to apologise for not revealing the full extent of the last riot,” Ms Kikkert said. “I hope it will not do the same this time.”

Replying to the Liberals’ questions on Thursday, Mr Gentleman said: “As I ascertain further developments and results from that investigation, I will advise the community.”

Mr Gentleman said he had been kept up to date during the incident, and received a briefing from the Acting Corrective Services Commissioner, Ray Johnson, the following morning.

Canberra Liberals also raised doubts about the ACT Government’s management of the prison.

Giulia Jones said those familiar with the workings of the prison repeatedly said discipline had been breaking down for years; corrections officers could not create a disciplined environment when senior management discouraged penalties for illicit drugs and shivs (homemade knives).

Mr Gentleman said corrections officers had a range of disciplinary measures they could use for offences, depending on the circumstances. Each serious allegation would be investigated and dealt with appropriately. Mr Gentleman added that he was not aware of any incidents involving shivs.

Jeremy Hanson said gas had been used to control the riot, but noted that according to the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services’ report into the riot, ACT Corrective Services needed to make a firm policy decision as to whether capsicum spray gas should be retained as a use of force option at the AMC, and that if so, corrective services officers should be fully trained and qualified to deploy chemical agents.

Mr Gentleman replied that corrective officers (CO) were trained in all aspects of force, including chemical agents spray and gas.

“The way that prisons are managed, and our AMC are managed, ensure that we try and keep a safe environment during our prison,” Mr Gentleman said in the Assembly. “That’s why our COs [Corrections Officers] are trained to such an extent with particularly use of force and managing those detainees. Those detainees of course come from a difficult background and do bring with them some experiences that we don’t normally see in our normal community, so that is why our COs are trained so well to deal with these sorts of operations.”

Ms Kikkert said this was the second riot to take place under Mr Gentleman’s watch. She called on the Minister to explain what he was doing to improve the prison.

Mr Gentleman created a new corrections oversight committee in December; its head, Christine Nixon, was appointed in February.

Ms Kikkert also claimed that corrections officers were “woefully” trained and had to work enormous amounts of overtime.

“Right now, it looks like things are getting worse,” she said. “Corrections officers fear that it is business as usual within the prison.”

Canberra Weekly asked Mr Gentleman’s office for their response.

Other stories about the AMC:

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