Six-month Hakea stay after juvenile riot

Amanda Banks and Gabrielle Knowles

Children could have to be held in an adult jail for as long as six months while prison authorities deal with the clean-up from a riot at the State's only juvenile detention centre, which left about 100 cells damaged and more than 70 detainees shifted to Hakea Prison.

The rampage by about 60 juveniles at Banksia Hill detention centre on Sunday night will be investigated by independent prisons watchdog Neil Morgan, who today will visit the juvenile facility and two units at the adult Hakea jail where young offenders have been shifted.

Commissioner for Children and Young People Michelle Scott raised concerns about the detention of the juveniles at Hakea, described by Aboriginal Legal Service chief executive Dennis Eggington as a "worst-case scenario".

"This is a very disturbing incident and we must identify the underlying causes that allowed it to occur," Ms Scott said.

Inspector of Custodial Services Professor Morgan, who described the riot as "probably the most serious single incident" since his appointment, said moving juveniles to the units at Hakea was probably the only option.

While the Department of Corrective Services was still assessing the damage, _The West Australian _understands juveniles may have to be held at Hakea or an alternative jail for up to six months before being returned to Banksia Hill.

Corrective Services Commissioner Ian Johnson shared concerns about the emergency arrangements, but said the juveniles were in units isolated from the adult prisoners.

Details of what sparked the riot remained sketchy yesterday and authorities could not reveal exactly what unfolded. But it took just three offenders to spark the major security breach at about 6pm after they ran from guards to avoid the nightly lockdown.

The situation escalated quickly and dramatically, with the three instigators hurling rocks as they fled.

Guards tried to lock down the remainder of the 206 detainees but the trio smashed cell windows, clearing the way for others to join the disturbance and scramble on to a roof.

When it became clear several youths were on the loose, the 56 guards on duty reportedly barricaded themselves in a room while waiting for back-up from the prisons riot squad and police.

It took authorities more than three hours to regain control of the Canning Vale centre and, by then, the youths had damaged up to 100 cells, computers, radios and other equipment.

The 21 girls at the centre and other young males who did not join the riot could do nothing as glass shattered into their cells.

None of the guards was injured. One detainee was treated for a cut leg.

Mr Johnson said he expected that at least the three detainees who started the riot would face criminal charges. "We're not dealing here with choir boys, we're not dealing here with angels, we're dealing with some people who are seriously challenged in many ways," he said. "Some of them are extremely volatile, violent young men."

Corrective Services Minister Murray Cowper admitted it had been a "highly volatile situation" but denied authorities had lost control or that there had been a security risk, because none of the detainees had escaped.

There would be separate investigations by Corrective Services and police to identify security issues and the offenders involved.

Mr Cowper did not want to pre-empt the investigations, but said more money would be spent on the detention centre if needed.

In the wake of the riot, 73 detainees, some reportedly as young as 14, were moved to Hakea.

WA Prison Officers Union secretary John Welch acknowledged it was a crisis, but said children should not be in an adult prison.

"And they are putting these young people into a prison that is already over-stretched and doesn't have enough staff," he said.

Community and Public Sector Union secretary Toni Walkington said there had been a "pressure-cooker" situation because of staff shortages, but talks with the department were hamstrung because it was expected to deliver the same services with fewer resources.

Ms Walkington called for increased funding for staff and programs, saying the State Government should re-establish a second juvenile detention centre for girls and young people on remand.

It is three months since the State's two juvenile facilities merged into the one at Banksia Hill. According to statistics on the Department of Corrective Services website, the jail was holding only 17 prisoners on January 10.

Mr Cowper denied that the decision to put all the juvenile offenders into one centre had contributed to increased tensions.

But shadow corrective services minister Fran Logan accused Mr Cowper of failing to appreciate the seriousness of the incident.

Mr Logan said he understood some troublemakers got close to escaping after damaging the sally port, which allows movement in and out of the centre.

"Mr Cowper needs to be held responsible for what has become the worst incident in juvenile corrective services ever in WA," Mr Logan said.