THE fence around Ashley is a ``joke'' that many detainees could scale in seconds, a former youth worker has said.
That's what is reported to have happened last Friday, when three detainees - aged 15, 16, and 17 - slipped over the fence at Ashley Detention Centre in the middle of the afternoon and ran towards the Bass Highway.
The trio was recaptured in a stolen heritage gold Rolls-Royce at Penguin 11 hours later.
Former Ashley worker David Bell said he had seen detainees scale the imposing 3.9-metre perimeter fence in less than 20 seconds, climbing hand-over-hand up the vertical metal posts and pushing apart the flimsy curled metal at the top to jump down the other side.
``The fence is a joke and it can be breached at will, in or out,'' Mr Bell said.
``Escape is very, very easy once they're in the yard ... if the kids take off, you are physically unable to stop them.''
The $300,000 perimeter fence was installed in 2001 as part of a $7.4 million upgrade. Before its installation, the centre averaged 44 escapes a year.
Within a week of the grand opening of the centre's upgrades in 2002, five detainees had escaped.
Reports of people scaling the fence to hide contraband items around the site have been raised since 2004.
Last week's escape was the first from the centre itself in 2 1/2 years. A 17-year-old who spent 15 days on the run last year escaped from two youth workers in the Launceston General Hospital car park.
A government spokesman said Ashley was ``not designed to be a prison environment''.
``The young people who are remanded to Ashley are provided with support, access to programs and education with a view to providing opportunities to return to a productive life.''
The number of youths in custody at Ashley has decreased in recent years, dropping to just nine earlier this month.
Health Minister Michelle O'Byrne has said the government is considering closing the $9 million a year centre to focus more on diversionary and therapeutic justice.