The damage caused during the riot shows that the cell windows were less robust than staff or detainees had believed, and that they were especially vulnerable to external attack from unsecured, readily accessible rubble. As a result, a program of retrofitting grilles akin to those found in some maximum security adult prisons has been carried out.

It was understandable that some measures would be taken to target harden cells and offices but it is vital to repeat the point that stability and security are about balance not buildings. A number of specific questions also arise with respect to the Department’s prior testing and the nature of the ‘upgrades’.

The Department’s security assessment in November 2012 did not identify the weaknesses, concluding simply that: ‘the accommodation units are adequate to house and contain detainees’. However, this appears to be in direct contradiction to a report in June 2009 where the Emergency Support Group (ESG) recommended that:

As a means of preventing repetitive window damage, ‘crim mesh’ be installed to cell windows that are susceptible to being broken from the outside by detainees. These will need to be identified on a priority/risk basis.

If the ESG’s 2009 recommendation had been implemented, at least in respect of high-risk cells such as those in the Harding Unit, it would have interrupted the momentum of the 20 January incident.  The Department was unable to find any record of the 2009 report having been formally considered by management or of any follow-through in respect of the report’s recommendations.

The Inquiry reviewed a number of physical infrastructure tests conducted by the ESG and concluded that there was no consistent methodology regarding test design, consultation, the testing of assumptions and follow-up.

The grilles that have been retrofitted to cell windows and unit offices in the aftermath of the riot are modelled on those used at maximum security prisons. The Infrastructure Review Paper shows that they fit uneasily into the juvenile detention centre environment and affect general amenity and feel. They also encourage a separation of staff from detainees, embed a sense of constant risk, and send a powerful psychological message to staff and detainees.

Members of the Inquiry team visited juvenile detention centres in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory. None of these facilities had grilles over cell windows or staff bases. Some of them had experienced serious security challenges but had elected for a holistic response with priority on dynamic and procedural security.

There are also some specific issues with the design and fitting of the additional fortifications:

  • The solution is over-constructed for what was needed.
  • The solution does not prevent damage to the glass from graffiti or other vandalism. The Department may therefore face significant future repair costs. Other solutions such as crim-mesh would have better served the purpose.
  • Very heavy steel framing has been fixed onto single-skin domestic scale brickwork.
  • Some of the retrofitting has undermined existing physical security.
  • Some of the retrofitting of bars around the unit offices has impacted dynamic security by reducing line of sight and staff–detainee interaction but has done little to enhance resistance to physical attack.


Page last updated: April 4, 2014