Fortunately prison riots are rare and there has been no previous incident of comparable magnitude in Western Australia’s juvenile custodial facilities. Consequently, there are no previous equivalents of this report. However, it is valuable to compare the causes and dynamics of the Banksia Hill riot with the riots at Fremantle prison in 1988 and Casuarina prison in 1998.

Some contrasts and similarities are immediately apparent between the riots. The dynamics of 20 January 2013 at Banksia Hill were very different from the Fremantle and Casuarina riots. There were no assaults on staff, no assaults on other detainees, no serious injuries, no fires, and no hint of hostage taking. There was also good collaboration between police and the Department.

The Smith Report analysed the Casuarina riot in three stages: systemic neglect (stage one) led to a ‘tinderbox’ (stage two), which was ignited by a ‘spark’ on the day (stage three). It is useful to refer to this analogy in comparing the three riots. The ‘sparks’ were somewhat different for each riot. All three riots involved a ‘fairly spontaneous exploitation of opportunity’, but at Casuarina and Fremantle staff-prisoner tensions had been building for some time and immediately before the riots, there had been ‘stand offs’ and negotiations about prisoners’ concerns. At Casuarina and Fremantle, thee sequence of events on the day had specifically contributed to the tension and both riots had identifiable ringleaders. None of these features was present at Banksia Hill. In fact the preceding day had been positive, detainees generally avoided confronting staff and the starting point – three boys on a roof – had a depressing familiarity.

The dynamics and sparks therefore differed at Banksia Hill. However, there is a striking alignment between the stress factors in all three riots. These included staff shortages, crowded and strained infrastructure, lack of a normal busy routine due to the summer or holiday season, increasing numbers of serious incidents, staff fragility, a facility in transition, poor management and leadership, and poor communication, collaboration and continuity at head office level.