Officers fear prison not safe in wake of shocking July riot

Headshot of Geoff Vivian
Geoff VivianGeraldton Guardian
Corrective Services Minister Fran Logan inspects the damage at Greenough Regional Prison today after this weeks riots.
Camera IconCorrective Services Minister Fran Logan inspects the damage at Greenough Regional Prison today after this weeks riots. Credit: Michael Wilson/Picture: Michael Wilson, Michael Wilson, The West Australian.

A Greenough Regional Prison officer says she fears another riot at the facility.

“I am still not confident the prison will be safe once it is back up to full capacity, and many officers share my opinion,” she said.

She is one of two prison officers who have shared their memories almost six months after inmates stole ladders and angle grinders and broke into the female section as others escaped.

A WA Police Officers’ Union spokesperson said for their protection, the officers could not be named.

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The officer said she had never seen anything like it.

“It was an extremely frightening situation for those four hours before reinforcements arrived,” she said.

“At one point of the riot I was stationed at the gate house and answered a call from female prisoners who were locked inside and could smell the toxic smoke coming from the fire.

“It was the worst feeling in the world not being able to go in and help them.”

She said it was still hard to talk about the riot without getting upset.

“I felt helpless and all I could do was to try and comfort them over the cell call system, tell them they were safe and to take a deep breath and get down on the floor,” she said.

“I copped the aftermath of a pepper spray, which prisoners were trying to use as weapons against staff. It was an extremely harrowing and long night waiting for reinforcements to arrive.”

She said officers were mentally and physically challenged.

“I saw officers who had to stand out on the oval in freezing five-degree temperatures with just a short-sleeved shirt on while supervising prisoners who’d been evacuated,” she said.

“Officers feared for their lives.

“We are all so extremely lucky no one was seriously injured or killed. I believe that is because we all banded together, looked out for each other and acted quickly by removing risks such as knives from the kitchens.”

She said she never considered leaving on the night.

“It’s my job to keep the community safe and to look after the prisoners who weren’t involved in the riot,” she said.

“It’s also my job to back up my colleagues and keep them safe.”

Another officer from the prison said the experience had affected staff in different ways including anger, loss of trust in the system, stress, and post traumatic stress disorder.

“Some staff have managed to return to work fairly quickly, whereas some staff have not returned since the incident,” he said. “Some staff did return maybe too soon and have since gone off again.

“They are uncomfortable around crowds and often have to wait for their medications to kick in to allow them to feel good enough to attend work.” He said prison officers always had to be on their toes.

“Sometimes we get complacent after a long period of nothing happening and develop a false sense of security and then it all blows up,” he said.

“The general public do not know a lot about what our job involves.

“Police officers are the white knights who swoop in when criminals strike, and they do an amazing job.

“But prison officers are the ones who have to work 12 hour days with those criminals that the rest of society doesn’t want to live with.”

Their statements came as the WA Prison Officers’ Union and the WA Government marked the first National Corrections Day on Friday. WAPOU secretary Andy Smith made special mention of Greenough Regional Prison officers involved in last year’s riot.

“If it wasn’t for their bravery and professionalism, the situation could have been a lot worse,” he said. WA Corrections Minister Fran Logan thanked his department’s staff for working under trying conditions.

“During the riot, the prison officers acted bravely and with great professionalism to protect uninvolved prisoners from harm until reinforcements arrived,” he said.

“The Greenough prison officers have since received further training in how to manage these situations so if there are any future disturbances they have the ability to shut them down quickly.

“That training is ongoing, and the department is also working with the officers’ union on staffing levels so the prison appears to be moving in the right direction.”

Mr Logan said he had been told prison morale had improved greatly and staff and the new management were working well together.

“By following the appropriate procedures and policies that already exist, and with a prison officer cohort that has received enhanced training, I would hope that Greenough will be better placed to address any further disturbances in a timely and expeditious manner,” he said.

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