Tasmania's Risdon Prison riot could have been avoided, stakeholders say

RISDON PRISON: A timeline of some previous incidents to occur at the Risdon Prison near Hobart, following news of a prison riot on Wednesday.
RISDON PRISON: A timeline of some previous incidents to occur at the Risdon Prison near Hobart, following news of a prison riot on Wednesday.

A volatile situation at Risdon Prison could have been avoided if warnings of over-crowding and under-resourcing were not “ignored”, according to stakeholders.

On Wednesday, a standoff between correctional officers and about 40 inmates ended with a chemical agent being dispersed into the area. 

The inmates were reportedly refusing to return to their accomodation over a six-hour period, citing the withdrawal of Nicotine Replacement Therapy as their reason for the riot.

Tasmania Prison Service director designate Ian Thomas said the only injury was a cut to an inmate’s leg and that investigations were now underway to identify the instigators. 

But Prisoners Legal Service chairman Greg Barns said the nicotine patches were just one faction of a growing problem, and that conditions at the prison had “deteriorated greatly”. 

“We don’t blame management and we don’t blame staff, this is a political issue that’s been created,” Mr Barns said. 

“The problem at the moment is [inmates] have much less access to programs because of the over-crowding and lack of staff, and also continual lock downs.

“I think prisoners have been very patient and I’m surprised that it’s taken this long for what happened [on Wednesday] to occur, and it will continue to happen until the government starts ensuring that there are less numbers in prison.” 

Acting Corrections Minister Guy Barnett said it was a “very challenging situation”, but he made no apologies for being tough on crime. 

“If you do a crime, you do the time – it’s as simple as that,” Mr Barnett said. 

“We’ve had a smoke-free prison since February 2015 and that’s consistent with nearly all other jurisdictions … [the therapy] is still available for new prisoners who have an addiction.  

“Prison is not meant to be a holiday, it is not Club Med and there is simply no excuse for behaviour and non-compliance which puts staff and other inmates at risk.” 

He said the 550-inmate facility was at 93 per cent capacity and that 30 additional correctional officers were currently being recruited. 

Opposition deputy leader Michelle O’Byrne said what happened at the prison was “entirely avoidable”.

Ms O’Byrne said the government’s plan to phase out suspended sentences would only exacerbate the pressures already on the prison.

“We’ve seen in the last 24 hours what happens when the prison isn’t resourced enough to manage situations,” Ms O’Byrne said.

“The government needs to put money into appropriately resourcing the prison so that there is enough room for the prisoners we send there, but also so the staff are safe.

“The prison is hopelessly overcrowded.”