Towards the end of 2018, Greenough was progressing towards a normal regime. In mid-December, repairs to Unit 4 at Greenough had returned it to specification. Just before Christmas: 25 men in Unit 5 (self-care) had been moved to the self-care side of Unit 4; the most compliant men in Unit 2 had filled the rest of Unit 4; the remainder of those in Unit 2 had been moved to Unit 5, which had been stripped of self-care infrastructure; and Unit 2 was emptied for refurbishment.

We visited Greenough in early January 2019, almost six months after the incident. The Commissioner and the Minister had visited the day before us. The Acting Superintendent had presented his plans for investment at the site, including strategies to build a positive operational philosophy for Greenough, further relaxation of the prison routine, and infrastructure changes to improve site security. The Minister and Commissioner had supported his plans. We welcomed the commitment of significant investment by the Department.

At the time of our visit contractors were repairing Unit 3, and the refurbishment of Unit 2 had begun. The plan then was that Units 2 and 3 would fill again, and Unit 5 would be refurbished as a female unit, to open as early as June 2019. The prison routine had relaxed, lockdowns were less frequent, and staff and prisoners seemed happier. The tensions between management and staff had relaxed.

Women were still held short-term at the back of Unit 1, but were getting one hour recreation in the Unit 5 yard each day. We saw men in Unit 1 going to the oval for recreation as a group. Men choosing not to go were locked in cells.

Prisoner access to the Health Centre had improved. The visiting psychiatrist had noticed a positive change in prisoners at Greenough, but had seen signs of post-traumatic stress disorder in men sent down to Hakea after the riot.

Staff at the Education Centre were planning programs for 2019, and had run some activities over the Christmas break. They were pleased to have been included in the Superintendent’s call for input to a Greenough operational philosophy and strategic plan, based around education, health and employment.

We were impressed by the general atmosphere of positivity and optimism expressed by staff and prisoners. It was a marked change from the bleak negativity we had found during our visit in November, just six weeks earlier. A genuine recovery process appeared to be in place, but it had been six months coming. And it needed to be sustained.

Fortunately, loss of control has happened rarely in Western Australian prisons. Unlike WAPOL and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services staff, prison management and staff have no recent personal or practical experience of high-level emergency situations.

Our assessment of the six-month journey towards recovery at Greenough has raised questions about the Department’s capacity to manage a timely recovery from high-level critical incidents. It is clear that opportunities exist to better prepare for the recovery from a serious incident. Clear business continuity and disaster recovery planning may well highlight key issues to be addressed in the recovery phase.

Page last updated: December 20, 2019

Get Connected