The precise events of 20 January were not predictable. However, given the risks at Banksia Hill itself and the lessons to be learned from earlier reports into prison riots in Western Australia, a major security incident was entirely predictable.
Prior to the amalgamation of Banksia Hill and Rangeview Remand Centre, there were significant fragilities at Banksia Hill including staff shortages, excessive lockdowns of detainees in their cells, poor responses to detainee misbehaviour and an increasing disconnect between management and staff regarding amalgamation. Building delays and the difficulty of managing a detainee population alongside a construction site compounded the problems but did not cause them. There was an escalation in serious incidents, including assaults on staff, numerous roof ascents, and a violent high-risk escape involving the stealing of a contractor’s vehicle.
Over the same time period, the Department made too many changes to the management of youth custodial services, both onsite and at head office level. This led to a lack of clear leadership, a lack of continuity and increasing instability.
The Department placed insufficient weight on the risks at Banksia Hill and did too little to address those risks as they became increasingly evident. There was no rational explanation for how the Department could have allowed amalgamation to proceed in early October.
A new management team which started in November 2012 made immediate efforts to address the problems and had begun to make some progress. However, the issues and risks were so fundamental that they could not be addressed by January 2013, when the riot occurred.
Given the extent of the damage to Banksia Hill and the lack of any alternative juvenile facility, the Department transferred the majority of the detainees to Hakea Prison during the two weeks following the riot. At Hakea, detainees were almost totally locked down for three weeks. This was not reasonable and was not necessary by way of risk management. Once the total lockdowns were eased, the regime that was put in place fell short of a suitable level of service to young people in detention because of shortfalls in education, programs and recreation, and because of continuing lockdowns.
The report concludes that a fresh approach is required to manage young people in custody. Responsibility for youth justice services should lie with an agency whose primary responsibility is youth justice, not adult imprisonment. Currently, youth justice services accounts for $100 million of the Department’s total budget but reliable estimates suggest that another $200 million or more is spent across government on services for youth at risk. There are strong arguments in favour of a establishing either a new government department or a Youth Justice Commission (along the lines of the Mental Health Commission) to oversee this expenditure and to drive youth justice into the future. Key outcomes should be a sharper focus on regional youth, Aboriginal youth and mental health.