The Ministry of Justice are intending to implement a full smoke free policy in all prisons in Wales from January 2016 and at four initial sites in England from March. The four English prisons to begin the phased implementation are Exeter, Channings Wood, Dartmoor and Erlestoke.
The ban comes after a seven year battle by prison unions to include prisons into the ban which was implemented in 2007 to all public spaces in England and Wales. However, with the ban there comes a fear that riots and unrest will occur, taking away the one area of freedom many inmates rely upon. More than four in five prisoners smoke and though communal areas have had a smoking ban for many years, prisoners have always been allowed to smoke in their cells. This measure was introduced to reduce the risk of exposure to second hand smoke. From next month, prisoners in open prisons will only be able to smoke in designated outdoor areas. The announcement has had legal challenges along the way over health risks of passive smoking and the failure to introduce a smoke-free legislation across the entire prison, putting the lives of those who do not smoke at risk.
Andrew Selous, the prisons minister commented that the smoke-free legislation was a ‘difficult thing to do’, considering how many inmates are smokers. It was also a sensitive subject due the ‘unique environment’ of prisons. However, Andrew Selous asserts it was a necessity due to the UK’s smoking law and health reasons.
Up until the smoke free implementation date, these prisons will be encouraging and supporting prisoners to stop smoking through a range of smoking cessation support and advice. E-cigarettes have already been successfully rolled out to all prison shops in England and Wales.
England & Wales are not the first countries to implement a prison smoking ban. Canada has been smoke free since 2008, New Zealand since 2011, and parts of Australia since 2013. Broadmoor Secure Hospital has also been smoke free since 2007. Peter McParlin, chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association, welcomed the move: ‘We support a cautious approach to the introduction of a complete ban on smoking. However, we do expect the timetable to be in place and this is made more imperative because of our understanding that the results of air quality tests are worse that could have been expected’.
So why are prisons now being made smoke free?
- Improve prisoner health
- Protect staff and inmates from second-hand smoke
- Minimise legal challenges by non-smoking prisoners or prison staff
- Reduce fire risks
- Lower maintenance costs
- Lower insurance costs
- Makes it easier for those who live and work in prison to quit smoking
What does UK policy say about the ban?
When the ban for smoking in public places was introduced, prisons were given a partial exemption as well as prisons in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but not Wales. However prisons in England Wales had a smoking ban in place in all indoor areas except for cells occupied by smokers of a legal age (18 years old). High security hospitals such as Rampton, Broadmoor and Ashworth are also part of regulations to become smoke free and will extend to indoor and outdoor spaces too. Some prisoners are pursuing legal action; on a basis that being forced to breathe in tobacco smoke involuntarily is a breach of their human rights.
Back in 2011, a Prison Service Instruction stated that non-smokers were not allowed to share a cell with an active smoker. However in practice this was not entirely implemented, exposing non-smoking prisoners and staff to second-hand smoke. The Prison Officers Association has called for rigorous restrictions which has in hand prompted the new ban. In 2013, Public Health England, NHS England and the National offender Management Service to publically support the initiative for smoke-free prisons.
From 31 October, all open prisons will prohibit smoking in enclosed places and they would begin to implement smoke free wings on a voluntary basis. Staff and inmates can opt to work and live in smoke free wings too. The remainder of the prisons will eventually become smoke free, but a timeframe has not yet been established.
So what positive changes are to be expected?
- A study in North Carolina has suggested that smoke free policies has resulted in a significant improvement in air quality
- It was found on average, levels of respirable suspended particulates decreased by 77% in prisons compared to levels before the ban
- Other studies have proven that smoke free policies are ‘effective in reducing, but not eliminating, these exposures’
- In the Isle of Man, the smoke free policy has been a success with the benefits for prisoners far outweighing any difficulties in enforcement
- US study measured the impact of smoking bans in prisons on smoking attributable illness and mortality between 2001 and 2011. Number of states with any smoking ban increased from 25 in 2001 to 48 by 2011. Research had shown that prisons which were smoke free had a 9% reduction in smoking related deaths (heart and lung disease)
- There was also a reduction in deaths from cancer
- Prisoners are more likely to quit smoking with an opportunity to access stop smoking advice and therapy
- Prisoners seeking help to quit may benefit from personalised support, pharmacological aids, access to staff for advice between sessions and more diversionary activities.
- There will be considerable cost savings in health care expenditure