1 July – Heavily armed police carrying shields have stormed Melbourne’s maximum security prison in a bid to quell rioting prisoners.
Chaotic scenes erupted inside the Metropolitan Remand Centre in Ravenhall as masked inmates brandishing sticks, bashed in doors and windows, and lit fires. The prisoners also reportedly commandeered a tractor and thrown a golf cart on a fire.
Shouts and raucous laughter could be heard at one point as police, corrections officers and firefighters milled outside.
Cell fires also broke out at the nearby Port Phillip prison and the Dame Phyllis Frost women’s prison on Tuesday afternoon, but both were quickly contained.
Police at the scene said about 300 prisoners were involved in the demonstration which began at 12:20pm inside the prison on Tuesday.
Shots were heard coming from the facility just before 6:00pm but it was unclear whether it was tear gas being used or gunfire.
An estimated 200 staff were evacuated from the prison and all of the state’s prisons went into lockdown as a precaution.
A drone was sent up to monitor the yard, with a police helicopter and a heavily armoured vehicle also on the scene.
Dozens of police officers were seen marching through the main entrance of the prison with riot gear.
Fires burned well into the evening inside the maximum security prison complex.
Corrections commissioner Jan Shuard said “a very large group” of prisoners had “created a big disturbance” at the facility.
She said the riot may have been related to a state-wide smoking ban in Victorian prisons, which is due to begin on Wednesday, but said that had not yet been confirmed.
“The situation is still being managed, until we can have a full debrief on it, we won’t know how it got to this stage,” she said.
“Until I get a full debrief, I can’t speculate about how it all came about.”
Earlier a group of prisoners breached a secure inner perimeter of the remand centre, but Ms Shuard said most prisoners had been brought under control.
“We’ve got a large proportion of the prison locked down now, but we still have too many out and until we have them under control the number [involved] is too hard to be determined.”
She said the perimeter of the prison had been secured by police and there was no threat to public safety.
A fire also broke out at Port Phillip Prison, in nearby Truganina, but Corrections Victoria said it was unclear if it was related to the events at Ravenhall.
The Metropolitan Remand Centre is a 1,000-bed facility, 24 kilometres west of Melbourne’s CBD.
Ms Shuard said corrections had been preparing for 18 months to prepare for the introduction of the smoking ban.
“We’ve been working diligently through a whole range of activities and plans to be able to manage [the] prison population in the lead up to our non-smoking in our prisons,” she said.
“These people are on remand … so they are the people that won’t have come as much on the journey with us around ceasing smoking, because they are newly arrived people in our system.”
About 84 per cent of people going into the state’s 14 prisons smoke and about 1,300 prisoners, or 20 per cent of the prison population, have attended quit programs up until the end of May.
“I think it’s D-Day now and people are thinking what am I going to do without my cigarettes, but they have been well prepared by corrections.”
Ms Shuard said the department would review how the situation unfolded.
“We will thoroughly review how this came about, how we responded to it and what we might need to do in the future,” she said.
“If criminal acts have occurred within the prison today that would be up to Victoria Police to pursue any charges.”
Prison riot: Corrections Victoria regains control of Melbourne Remand Centre after police storm facility
Corrections Victoria has regained control of the Metropolitan Remand Centre in Melbourne’s west, after a 15-hour riot that started around noon yesterday ended overnight.
Heavily armed police carrying shields stormed the maximum security prison around 3:00am in a bid to quell the rioting prisoners.
In a statement, Corrections Victoria said it was a difficult operation conducted under the cover of darkness to protect prison staff, Victoria Police and prisoners.
Several prisoners were hurt in the riot and were treated by medical staff.
A wall was knocked down, fires were lit and windows were smashed during the violence, involving up to 300 inmates, some of who covered their faces and carried sticks.
The riot is believed to have been sparked by the imposition of a smoking ban which comes into effect today at the remand centre at Ravenhall.
Two staff members suffered minor injuries but “these were not as a direct result of interaction with prisoners” the department said in a statement.
About 200 staff were evacuated from the facility and all of the state’s prisons went into lockdown as a precaution.
A large number of prisoners were transferred to other facilities as authorities assessed the damage to the prison.
Corrections Victoria will hold an internal review to the handling of the riot and Victoria Police is also investigating.
Victorian Corrections Minister Wade Noonan called the incident “unacceptable” and “dangerous”.
“This behaviour will not be tolerated,” he said.
“I want to assure the Victorian people that there will be a thorough investigation into what caused this riot, how this major security breach happened and the response to it.
“This criminal behaviour will not be tolerated.
“I think it’s fair to say that I am deeply relieved that no-one was seriously hurt and this is in no small part due to the efforts of our brave men and women in Corrections Victoria and Victoria Police.”
Corrections Commissioner Jan Shuard said all prisons across the state would remain in lockdown for the time being.
She said the smoking ban probably was the reason for the riot but that the ban would still be enforced from today.
Ms Shuard could not put a dollar figure on the amount of damage inside the centre but said prison cells, windows and units were damaged.
She said work had already begun to assess the damage and make repairs.
All 802 prisoners were accounted for.
Ms Shuard said most prisoners returned to their cells on instructions from police and corrections officials.
Police used capsicum spray to subdue those refusing to cooperate.
“I would say by the time we got to the end of the exercise there was around 50 prisoners out and about that we had to bring back under control but that took a long time,” Ms Shuard said.
“The numbers decreased as the day went on.”
Ms Shuard said they were enacting a prison recovery plan to fix the damage and secure the prisoners in their cells.
“So we’ll go to a restricted regime for a period of time and then when we assess its safe to do so we will start moving back to a normal regime but it’ll take a while,” she said.
“Those people that might be involved in these incidents don’t get the same freedom of movement that they would’ve had previously.
“There are very restricted regimes for people that cause disruption to the prison system.”
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane said police took their time, planned the operation to regain control of the prison and then executed that plan.
Assistant Commissioner Leane said some of the inmates involved would probably face new criminal charges.
“I think there’s quite a few of them [who] will be thinking that they may be doing some more time than they weren’t planning on doing, yes,” he said.