January 21: More than 70 juvenile detainees in Perth have been transferred to Hakea adult prison after a riot at the Banksia Hill Detention Centre overnight.
Corrective Services Commissioner, Ian Johnson, says the detainees armed themselves with makeshift weapons after three climbed onto the roof yesterday evening.
“Initially three detainees were not locked in their cells, it was at that time just prior to lockdown,” he said. “They then got on the roof, that’s then escalated and a number of detainees have obviously joined them and at one stage in the evening we about 60 detainees running amok in the centre.”
“No staff were injured and no detainees were; the exception of some young fellow that got a gash to his leg and got stitched up and he’s fine.”
Mr Johnson says it took 60 police units four hours to get the situation under control.
“It’s been a terrible night and they armed themselves up with weapons, makeshift weapons, whether it be rocks or it be glass and wrapping the glass within cloth so you’ve got some sort of weapon to be able to use,” he said.
More than 100 police officers, the canine squad and the police helicopter were called in to deal with the riot.
Mr Johnson says there was a full complement of staff, 56, who were working at the centre when trouble broke out.
The Opposition Corrective Services spokesman Fran Logan says staff were under threat.
“My understanding is there were staff from Banksia Hill who barricaded themselves into a part of the prison in order to avoid being attacked,” he said. “When you’ve got staff in a situation like that, they’re clearly not in control of the prison.”
There have been reports the inmates bashed their way out through windows in their cells but the Commissioner would not be drawn on whether building security failed.
Mr Johnson likened the riot to an out of control party.
“If you think about what typically happens each weekend here in Perth with the out-of-control parties and if you could just picture the fact that we have some 206 young people and some are young and some are young men who are obviously not well-behaved,” he said.
“These things typically tend to be spontaneous then they gather momentum.”
Mr Johnson says about 90 cells were damaged.
“There’s the issue of some cells being compromised,” he said.
“First, and foremost for me, you’ve got people out on site assessing what damage has been done to cells so what can we use, what can’t we use.”
Mr Johnson says as a result, some inmates had to be moved from the centre.
“We’ve since transferred 73 of the juveniles to Hakea Prison,” he said.
“Now, obviously the concerns there would be that that’s an adult prison but the 73 have been isolated away from adult prisoners.”
The Prison Officers union’s John Welch says moving the detainees to Hakea Prison creates more problems.
“It is an extremely difficult situation for the staff and management at Hakea now,” he said.
“It’s a very over-crowded prison and only last week there was a report by the office of the inspector of custodial services which made serious criticisms of the prison as a consequences of the level of overcrowding and a lack of facility.”
The Inspector of Custodial Services, Neil Morgan, says he has concerns about how the juveniles will be treated at the adult prison.
Mr Morgan says he will visit both Hakea and Banksia tomorrow to check on the inmates.
“Clearly, we need to understand how long they will be there, what sort of regime will be offered for them,” he said.
“At the moment, within a prison, it’s run by prison officers, not juvenile custodial officers.
“We need to know what education and opportunities are there for the children in the months to come.”
Mr Morgan says the situation at Banksia Hill was at boiling point.
“I think it’s fair to say that Banksia Hill was fragile before the amalgamation took place in October last year when they closed Rangeview remand centre and transferred the kids there over to Banksia,” he said.
“Unfortunately, in the interim, I guess some of those fragilities have become all too clear.”
The former Inspector of Custodial Services, Professor Richard Harding, agrees that conditions at the Banksia Hill detention centre are not good.
“What this instance highlights is a review of why Western Australia continues to imprison/incarcerate in unsuitable conditions without any proper programs or rehabilitation efforts, so many juveniles,” he said.
Mr Johnson does not yet know how long the juveniles will be at Hakea.
He says there will be investigations into what sparked the incident.
“One thing I’m not into is the blame game, I mean there’s going to be issues that I’ll want to get identified throughout this process with either our internal investigation, the police, or the inspector’s investigation,” he said.
“I want to find out what happened and why it happened but let me get back to the point; 60-plus people caused this damage, caused this incident.
“It wasn’t caused by my staff, it wasn’t caused by my infrastructure, it was caused by people doing what they did.”
The department is still trying to work out how the detainees were able to escape from their cells.
Banksia Hill is WA’s only detention centre for male and female offenders aged 10 to 17 years old.