In the afternoon and evening of Tuesday 24 July 2018, a major disturbance occurred at Greenough Regional Prison (Greenough), in the state’s mid-west. Prisoners took control of the prison, set fires, and threatened staff with makeshift weapons. Male prisoners gained access to the female unit. Ten men escaped. Although control was re-established the following morning, damage across the site was extensive. All escapees were recaptured within 48 hours.
The Department acted quickly, commissioning an independent review of what happened, focussing on causal factors, responses, and opportunities for improvement. The report identified the four phases of emergency management as: prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery.
The focus of this inspection was to look at this fourth phase of emergency management, recovery, over the weeks and months following the incident.
It was clear that prisoners were denied many basic rights and were held in unacceptable conditions. That said, in the immediate aftermath of the incident there may have been little that the prison or Department could reasonably have done given the state of the prison, the police investigation, the lack of suitable alternatives, and the geographical context. However, as the days became weeks and the weeks became months, we found that there were unnecessary delays in the return to a normal regime. Further, we identified that many of the women and men had suffered traumatic effects from the riot.
Staff too were traumatised by the events on the night, and many spoke of the impact it had on them personally. In the days after the riot, they returned to find scenes of destruction, with debris strewn throughout the prison. Two unit offices were severely damaged, and one was destroyed by fire. Psychological counselling and other supports were available, but many prison officers felt neglected by the Department. They expected the riot to prompt positive changes, and were not satisfied with what they saw as limited progress. They also thought that prisoners’ needs were prioritised above their own.
Return to a normal regime at Greenough was not helped by conflict between local management and custodial staff. Prison officers blamed management for budget and overtime restrictions in the four months before the incident, and the consequent increase in lockdowns. In their opinion, the incident was the direct result of locking prisoners up too often, and for too long. After the incident, they resisted the relaxation of the lockdown regime, and the re-opening of Units 3 and 4 until extensive improvements had been made to physical infrastructure security.
Greenough management, on the other hand, felt undermined by a lack of ongoing support from the Department in Perth. Although experienced prison managers had come to Greenough in the first eight weeks after the incident, that support did not extend to progressing the recovery phase towards the reintroduction of a normal regime. The Department did not provide structured change management, which could have hastened normalisation, and improved conditions for prisoners.