By Rooney John
Welcome news for inmates after a U-turn on proposed plans to ban smoking in UK prisons. Plans have been put on hold by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), after unsuccessfully piloting the programme in 2014.
There has already been a smoking ban in public, communal areas in all UK prisons, since 2007; when a nation-wide smoking ban designed to protect people from the effects of second-hand smoke was implemented It also comes amid fears that the Prison Service could face compensation claims from these officers, complaining of the effects of passive smoking. However smoking was still allowed in cells, as these were classed as domestic areas, and outside in exercise yards.
The Prison Officers Association (POA) said NOMS had not indicated that the policy will be abandoned altogether, but that it could not be ‘safely implemented at this time’. A spokesperson for the POA said: ‘We are extremely disappointed that the Ministry of Justice and NOMS has withdrawn the pilot prisons in respect of smoking.’
‘This is a great backward step which will have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of prisoners and staff alike.’
Speaking at the House of Commons in 2014, justice minister Jeremy Wright said NOMS supported the “desirability of attaining a smoke free prison estate in the future.”
He added: “However, the timing of that implementation will take account of the operational realities of running safe, decent and secure prisons and in particular the impact any smoking ban may have on the general safety of staff and prisoners.
As a former inmate I find this news ludicrous. I first found out about the smoking ban at Wormwood Scrubs prison, whilst serving a short sentence in the summer of 2013. I was walking around the exercise yard and heard it from a fellow inmate. I’m not sure where he got this information from, as it hadn’t been reported in the news yet.
When I got back on the wing I mentioned this news to a few of the other inmates who I was friendly with – my prison mates. The vast majority of them, at first, thought I was winding them up – as I had a bit of a reputation as a joker. I assured them I was deadly serious. The general consensus was that this proposed ban would be unworkable and could lead to riots.
From my experience of being in prison the majority of inmates smoke and tobacco is a valuable currency that is traded on the wings and I have seen trading of tobacco as currency in every one of my sentences. It is used most commonly to trade food items and toiletries, but also illicit drugs and prescribed medication, which the majority of prisoners are able to conceal.
I have been in and out of prison for the last 10 years. Being able to smoke not only helped to alleviate the boredom and stress of being locked in a 12ft long, 6ft wide cell for up to 23 hours a day.
I think that prisons should just stick with the current rule of smoking only being allowed in cells and exercise yards. The ban would cause too many problems and be hard to enforce, considering there is already a huge drug problem in all prisons. Tobacco would still find its way in, even if the ban was implemented.
I can see why there was a strong argument for the policy to be implemented, as a lot of prison employees were complaining that they were being put at risk of passive smoking. However I don’t think this reason was justifiable, as it further restricts the rights of prisoners, who are already being punished by losing their freedom and being separated from their friends and family.
Only time will tell whether the powers that be decide to implement the proposal in the near future.