Violent clashes erupted today involving hundreds of inmates at the Metropolitan Remand Centre outside Melbourne, Australia.
Staff and visitors were forced to evacuate after parts of the prison went into lockdown, according to Corrections Commissioner Jan Shuard, who told reporters this was one of the biggest prison riots she had ever seen.
Dozens of police officers were seen marching through the main entrance of the prison with riot gear, while smoke billowed from the maximum security facility, about 15 miles west of Melbourne.
Shuard said the riot might be linked to a smoking ban, which goes into effect tomorrow, and has been 18 months in the making.
One inmate reportedly told someone at the prison this week that “all hell was going to break loose if their tobacco was removed.”
Heavily armed police and emergency services rushed to the scene after prisoners breached an inner perimeter. They had to use a water cannon to subdue inmates, according to BBC News.
Aerial footage from Australian media shows masked prisoners in an outside yard, lighting fires and smashing windows. Shuard said several small fires were started but then quickly contained.
“Police secured the prison’s perimeter while a police drone and police helicopter surveyed the scene from the air,” according to the BBC report.
Earlier in the day, officials said the state’s prison system had been “very ready” for the smoking ban. Victorian prisoners reportedly smoke at five times the rate of the general population. The government said it was introducing the ban to improve the health of prison staff and inmates.