Prisons smoking ban a hard sell

by Jenny Novac on June 13, 2011

PRISONERS will be banned from smoking in their cells as part of a NSW trial, but guards fear a violent backlash from nicotine-addicted inmates who are locked up for a 16-hour stretch each day.

Prisons smoking ban a hard sell

Inmates at the maximum-security Lithgow jail will be allowed to smoke only in designated outdoor areas during the six-month trial next year.

The Department of Corrective Services says it wants to protect the health of inmates and staff, but the prison officers union and prisoner advocates worry about the anxiety and depression it will cause prisoners locked up from 4pm to 8am.

Figures released by Corrective Services show about 75 per cent of male and 81 per cent of female inmates smoke. Cigarettes have also long been used as jail currency.

Brett Collins, co-ordinator of the prisoners lobby group Justice Action, said the ban was an attack on rights inmates have had since NSW began as a penal colony.

It would bring heightened ”tensions” between inmates and prison officers, he said.

Smokers among the jail’s 340 inmates will be given nicotine patches to ward off cravings.

The Corrective Services Commissioner, Ron Woodham, said the ban would reduce the exposure of staff and inmates to the harmful effects of smoking.

A joint working party from Corrective Services and Justice Health, the agency that provides healthcare to prisoners, presented Mr Woodham options to cut smoking rates, including a ban on cigarettes in the jail.

The group will meet soon with unions and WorkCover to discuss the trial.

Mr Woodham said smoking rates among inmates were unacceptably high.

”Staff shouldn’t have to open a cell door and be knocked out by a cloud of tobacco smoke,” he said. He would monitor the progress of smoking bans in other jurisdictions before considering widening them.

Federal prisons in the US banned tobacco over concerns about the hazards of second-hand smoke. In 1993, a US Supreme Court ruling supported inmate claims that being held in a smoke-filled prison may constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Research in New Zealand, where smoking will soon be banned in jails, has shown that prison staff were exposed to second-hand smoke at levels 12 times the national average.

The NSW prison officers union, the Public Service Association, said the department needed to first introduce a program to help inmates quit.

”We’d be concerned that some inmate who is on nicotine withdrawal could lash out at an officer,” the association’s senior industrial officer, Stewart Little, said.

Mr Collins said inmates would be outraged to lose a historic right. He would ask the Attorney-General, Greg Smith, to halt the ban until its ramifications were examined.

Heavy smokers in nicotine withdrawal would suffer ”a good deal of agitation”, he said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *