Saturday, 19 January 2013

Brave but not Stupid

I notice that the Times is reporting a u-turn in relation to banning smoking at all prisons in England and Wales. The Murdoch paywall prevents a link I'm afraid, but the gist can be gleaned from this free snippet:-

"A plan to ban smoking in a number of jails has been postponed amid fears that it would provoke disturbances. Prison managers had hoped that the pilot project would lead to all jails in England and Wales being smoke-free within 12 months. But now the planned ban at Exeter prison, which holds 500 inmates, and other selected jails has been shelved." 

Now I've already suggested that Justice Minister Chris Grayling is being somewhat brave with his plans to let private contractors loose on the majority of probation work, but clearly he's not stupid in deliberately stoking up a rare-old uproar over banning the prison roll-up completely.

You will recall that when the smoking ban was first introduced, an exception had to be made in relation to prisoners cells because they were regarded as 'home'. My understanding is that any attempt to prevent prisoners smoking in their cells would quite quickly become a human rights issue and yet another cause for prisoners beating a path to the European Court.

It would also become a considerable control issue in terms of enforcement and give even greater encouragement for smuggling. As things stand at the present time tobacco is pretty much treated as currency within prison and it's unclear what would or could replace such a well-established informal market.

Interestingly, when the Isle of Man opened their brand new prison in 2008 it was completely no smoking from day one and is credited in this article with having such a deterrent effect that crime on the island dropped markedly. Burglaries down 35%, assaults 25% and car thefts 7%.

"It's a standing joke now that when we nick someone we remind them that if they get sent down they'll have to come off the cigarettes - their faces are a picture," said a police source. "It's more like they are more scared about giving up smoking than a criminal record and some time in the nick."

I'm not entirely sure of the causal link there! Anyway, Guernsey introduced a complete smoking ban on January 1st and apparently inmates have complied, with quite a few taking the opportunity of purchasing electronic cigarettes. Jersey on the other hand has decided not to. Me thinks things would be quite a bit different back here in England and Wales though, and it's interesting to see what Phil Wheatley HM Prison Service Director General told Parliament on the subject way back in 2005:-

"I think prisons are special and the circumstances are special," said Mr Wheatley. "It's important we take account of the fact that they are places in which people not only work but live, in many cases for years at a time."

"I would expect to find there was an increase in incidents of assaults on staff, that we ended up with prisoners who were more likely to be troublesome and an increased risk of disorder."

Prisoners' welfare was also a consideration as he added, "We do need to make sure we do not cause significant problems for disturbed people arriving with us with already a multitude of problems, many of them coming off drugs, many of them with serious alcohol problems and many of them potentially suicidal."

Indeed. It's a shame Chris Grayling doesn't listen to his probation professionals.       

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