On the evening of Sunday 20 January 2013, an extremely serious incident of mass disorder erupted at Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre (‘Banksia Hill’). It was by far the most serious incident of this type in Western Australia since what is generally known as the ‘Casuarina Prison riot’ of Christmas Day 1998. The incident had some very specific dynamics and features which set it apart from previous prison ‘riots’ in Western Australia, In particular, staff were not targeted with violence. However the term ‘riot’ is an apt description of the incident.
On 21 January 2013, the then Minister for Corrective Services Hon Murray Cowper MLA directed the Inspector of Custodial Services to undertake a review of the incident. The terms of reference included the context of the incident and its contributing or causal factors; security infrastructure and practices; the adequacy of emergency management planning and responses; and the subsequent housing of detainees at Hakea Prison. Staffing levels at Banksia Hill and the impact of the incident on staff were also included.
Banksia Hill is operated by the Department of Corrective Services (‘the Department’). At the time of the incident it housed 185 males and 21 females. The incident started when three detainees climbed onto a roof, not an infrequent event at Banksia Hill. In total, sixty one detainees escaped from their cells and had ‘run amok’. In addition, a significant number of detainees caused damage to their cells. Department-supplied figures put the number of detainees involved in the incident at around 73, all male, but it is more likely that somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of Banksia Hill’s male detainees were actively involved to some degree, and also some of the females.
Extensive damage was caused by some of the detainees to parts of the buildings, most notably the cells and living areas, as well as to some equipment and personal property. The worst of the damage resulted from windows being attacked from both the outside and the inside.
The consequences of the riot for the detainees were dramatic. Seventy-three male detainees, who were labelled at the time as the prime culprits, were immediately transferred to a nearby adult prison, Hakea Prison (‘Hakea’). Within a week it had been decided that all of the male detainees, whatever their age or legal status, would be transferred to Hakea. These transfers were finalised by 8 February 2013.
Following pressure from a number of sources that decision was later modified and it was decided that detainees aged under 14 would continue to be held at Banksia Hill. A number of older detainees were also held at Banksia Hill for specific purposes. They included detainees who needed to be held in ‘observation’, those appearing before the Supervised Review Release Board, and those appearing in court, whether in person or by video link. Banksia Hill also continued to house female detainees.
Just over three months before the riot Banksia Hill had become the state’s only juvenile detention centre following the decision to turn the other juvenile facility, Rangeview Remand Centre (‘Rangeview’) into a prison for young men aged 18 to 24. Banksia Hill officially became the sole juvenile detention centre on 5 October 2012 (‘the date of amalgamation’), with the transfer of the final group of Rangeview detainees. At the time of the riot, however, it remained in transition.
Banksia Hill had actually been in transition, to one degree or another, for over three and a half years. The announcement that Rangeview would have a different role was made in May 2009 and in January 2010 it was confirmed that a ‘Public Private Partnership arrangement’ would be used. Amalgamation was originally anticipated for the end of 2011 but the project was beset with building delays and a range of associated problems. This had contributed to uncertainty and risk.