29 Jun 2010

Govt bans smoking by prisoners

6:47 am on 29 June 2010

All inmates in New Zealand prisons will be prohibited from smoking within a year.

The Government on Monday announced the ban, which also extends to lighters and matches, will take effect from 1 July 2011.

More than two-thirds of prisoners are smokers and the ban is expected to affect about 5700 inmates.

Corrections chief executive Barry Matthews says according to evidence from overseas, a ban can work if it is well prepared for and managed over the next 12 months

He says there has to be appropriate education, with inmates offered programmes and nicotine replacements to help them quit the habit.

But he admits some prisoners will get frustrated, especially in the early stages of the ban.

At present prisoners are allowed to smoke in their cells and in designated outside areas. But Corrections Minister Judith Collins says smoking is a serious health risk to inmates and staff.

"We have 3500 staff who every day get exposed to secondhand smoke at levels which are far more than if they were living in the home of a smoker."

Ms Collins says the Government may yet face lawsuits from staff and inmates objecting to being exposed to secondhand smoke.

Prison officers at risk - union

The Corrections Association says a management plan, adequate staffing and protective equipment are needed to keep everyone safe during the transition to a smoking ban.

President Beven Hanlon told Checkpoint he has already had feedback from prisons around the country that corrections officers will be at increased risk from agitated prisoners.

"We've already had - 'Well, if corrections officers are smoking and we're not allowed to, they'll be getting the bash'.

"It's common sense - we're cutting down on everything we're giving these prisoners and now we're cutting down on their smoking."

Mr Hanlon says prison is the ideal place to get people off their addictions, but it has to be done properly.

Labour seeks reassurance on prison officer support

Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove fears prison officers will bear the brunt of the ban and be left to deal with prisoners reluctant to give up smoking.

The party wants an assurance from the Corrections Minister that measures will be put in place so staff are kept safe.

Prime Minister John Key is downplaying any suggestion that a smoking ban will mean guards having to deal with more volatile prisoners.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Ashley Bloomfield says the relatively small cost of $100 for each eight-week course of nicotine patches will help reduce the country's estimated $1.5 billion in annual health costs from smoking.

Havoc ahead - Lashlie

Former prison manager Celia Lashlie told Nine to Noon the move is not about secondhand smoke. She says the Government is trying to appeal to "redneck" New Zealanders by appearing tough on people in prison.

The former head of Christchurch Women's Prison says there are many ways for prisons to manage the situation so non-smokers are not affected by secondhand smoke.

Ms Lashlie says a ban will only cause trouble among inmates and prison staff will be stretched even more than they are already.

Why not ban smoking for all?

Howard League president Peter Williams QC told Morning Report he agreed with concerns that a prohibition of smoking in prisons would create more violence and a blackmarket for tobacco.

But he said it could be a very good idea as long as there is a comprehensive programme to help inmates give up smoking.

Mr Williams also said the Government should not be selective and a ban should apply to all members of the Ministry of Justice - the judiciary, probation officers and court staff.

Rethinking Crime and Punishment project director Kim Workman, who was previously the head of the prison service, says going smoke-free will be hugely unpopular amongst prisoners.