26 September 2023

Jail staff stepped up to face fires

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A review into serious fires at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) in May has found that Corrective Services officers and staff did a professional job in dealing with the multiple fires.

Releasing his report, A serious fire at the Alexander Maconochie Centre on 12 May 2021, ACT Inspector of Correctional Services, Neil McAllister said the incident occurred in a double storey high security-rated cell block when several detainees had allegedly become drunk on ‘home brew’.

“Some of these detainees started acting aggressively towards Corrections Officers, and fires were lit in the unit causing thick smoke and damage,” Mr McAllister said.

“Officers withdrew from the unit, and AMC staff fought the fires from outside the unit,” he said.

“For the first time in AMC’s history, OC (“pepper”) spray was on detainees who were attempting to hinder firefighting efforts.”

Mr McAllister said it was concerning that on the day in question, almost all detainees were in their unit during the day.

The Inspector said that in other gaols detainees would have been engaged across the gaol in work, industries, education, programs, recreation and other activities.

“Lack of a so-called ‘structured day’ for this unit was undoubtedly a contributing factor to the unrest,” he said.

“Fortunately, there were no significant injuries to staff or detainees and staff did a good job in dealing with multiple fires in the unit.”

Mr McAllister said the incident had a significant impact, both in terms of the estimated repair bill of over $3.7 million and the operational impact of forcing a large unit offline for almost a year in an already crowded jail.

He noted some improvements in AMC’s management of an incident of this kind, particularly through improved senior command structures,

“However, many of the recommendations and lessons identified from a riot in November 2020 were yet to be fully implemented,” he said.

Mr McAllister made four recommendations to ACT Corrective Services (ACTCS), including a review and update of the Emergency Management Framework; that evacuation of detainees in fires be included in Emergency Response training; review of the roles for staffing, management and operation of the AMC Master Control Room; and a clear directive that only staff specifically authorised to do so are permitted to disclose the occurrence of an incident to a member of the public or an off-duty staff member.

The Inspector’s 29-page Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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