The mother of a man held at Canberra's jail has described conditions inside the prison after last Tuesday's riot as inhumane and appalling, with prisoners in lockdown for as much as 23 hours and pain medications withdrawn.
The woman, who did not wish to be identified, said that she spoke with her son in a virtual meeting recently in which he told her that other prisoners were being punished for the actions of a group of "young-uns" who were involved in the riot, which Corrections boss Jon Peach described as a "demonstration".
Police, ambulance and firefighters were called to the Alexander Maconochie Centre on Tuesday, November 10, after 27 inmates refused to go back to their cells for the evening.
Access to the north wing of the jail was sealed off and a 3.5 hour stand-off ensued with four fires lit in various areas, security cameras damaged and cells rendered uninhabitable after inmates moved from one area to another and set fire to blankets and bedding. Firefighters who entered the wing to quell the blazes had to be protected by staff with riot shields as prisoners threw projectiles.
Separately, staff within the jail have also expressed their anger and frustration over their inability to access appropriate training and equipment to deal with a major incident.
Tensions had been building inside the jail since COVID-19 pandemic forced visits to be suspended and all meetings between inmates and family to be done virtually to avoid the virus getting into the jail and potentially infecting the entire population. Limited visits have now resumed through a booking system.
Corrections boss Jon Peach described last Tuesday's disturbance as "the most elevated incident" he had seen at the jail, which has suffered from overcrowding and a litany of other issues, including a drone dropping a contraband package into a prison yard, and numerous violent assaults between prisoners.
The mother said that some prisoners, including her son, had been forced to sleep three to a tiny two-bunk cell, with the third inmate sleeping on a mattress on the floor. No pillows were provided and each prisoner was issued with one blanket each.
However, in a statement ACT Corrections has denied the seriousness of the allegations.
"Detainees involved were temporarily placed into cells until a placement risk assessment could be conducted, including three into a cell," the statement said.
"Detainees were in the cells for less than 12 hours whilst accommodation and the relocation of other detainees was conducted. All detainees were moved into appropriate accommodation for their security classification within 24 hours of the incident."
Corrections says that detainee access to health professionals has not been restricted. It also said that appropriate detainee placements had been made within the prison "to ensure the safety, security and good order of the Alexander Maconochie Centre".
Immediately after the incident her son's new socks and underwear were all removed from his cell because of what was described as "contamination".
"My son wasn't involved in this riot; he didn't want any part of it," the woman said.
"He stayed well away and watched it happen. He said that when the people involved were outside [in the prison yard], they lit a fire to keep themselves warm and that's when there were hoses on them and left them wet and cold out there and that's when they gave up.
"It is appalling how people are being treated out there. Regardless of what they are in there for, they shouldn't be treated like this."
The ACT Council of Social Service said the incident highlighted the need for reform in the prison system.
The ACT Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Helen Watchirs, said she would be meeting ACT Corrections and the ACT Ombudsman on Wednesday, and last week's incident would be one of the matters discussed.
She expressed her concern at the woman's report of her son's treatment at the jail and the lengthy time prisoners were spending locked in their cells.
In the ACT Magistrates Court on Tuesday, Special Magistrate Margaret Hunter said she'd recently heard from another inmate who had complained of being held in 23-hour lockdown at the jail.
Corrections Minister Mick Gentleman has requested the ACT's independent prisons inspector compile a full report.
An insurance assessment of the damage to the accommodation unit has not yet been made and police have not yet begun interviewing those involved.