Reviews into the worst prison riot in Victoria’s history cannot ignore how overcrowding helps create “pressure cooker conditions” that lead to violence, a prisoner support service says.
Staff had to flee Melbourne’s Metropolitan Remand Centre and the prison was locked down when inmates armed with sticks smashed windows, bashed doors and lit fires, causing damage estimated at millions of dollars at the maximum security facility on June 30 and July 1.
The prison was still closed to visitors on Tuesday, a Corrections employee told AAP.
The riots at Ravenhall are believed to have been triggered by a statewide ban on smoking inside prisons.
Three inquiries into the riot are under way, and a prisoner support service says the problem of overcrowding must be investigated to prevent further outbreaks.
Jesuit Social Services says overcrowding has doubled the number of assaults, attempted suicides and cases of self-mutilation it has dealt with in the past six years.
“While it would seem that the smoking ban was the immediately visible trigger … the situation was already a powder keg that will continue to be a serious problem,” JSS chief Julie Edwards said in a statement.
Fights between inmates happen daily while prison officers are assaulted every three days, Ms Edwards said.
“In this context of overcrowding, Victoria has become the state with the most violent prisons in Australia.”
She said the Ravenhall remand centre reached capacity in January with 1005 inmates.
It is unclear how other prisons, which were also locked down at the time, remain affected by the smoking ban and the riot at Ravenhall.
Corrections Victoria said the Metropolitan Remand Centre remains “largely in lockdown”.
Most prisons are operating as normal but some prisoners are still subject to additional restrictions.
“There have been no major incidents at MRC or other prisons that could be attributed directly to the original disturbance,” a representative said in a statement.