IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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Prison smoking ban would cause more problems than it would solve, says IPRT

5th May 2006

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has characterised as "unworkable" today's call from the Prison Officer's Association to extend the smoking ban into prisons.

Commenting on the experience of other prison systems that have implemented complete non-smoking policies, the prison reform group concludes that such a ban would create more problems than it would solve.

"Prison Officers have a right to work in a smoke-free environment, just as non-smoking prisoners have a right to live in a smoke-free environment," said IPRT Executive Director, Rick Lines. "However, given that prisons are essentially the places of residence for prisoners during their sentences -- places from which smokers are obviously not free to simply step outside for a cigarette -- there needs to be special consideration made to balance the interests of smokers, non-smokers and prison workers."

The IPRT has consistently supported a plan in which smoking is banned from all public or shared areas of the prison, yet smoking prisoners are allowed to smoke either outside the prison or in their own cells.  As is the case in the Scottish prison system, prisoners are able to choose between living in a smoking or non-smoking cell.

The IPRT cites evidence showing an outright smoking ban is not only unworkable, but creates far more problems than it solves. 

"A smoking ban won't stop prisoners from lighting up.  But it will create yet another black market within the prison, a market characterised by the same types of bullying, violence, smuggling and corruption created by other illegal drugs," said Mr. Lines. 

The IPRT notes that in California, an $11 tin of tobacco sells on the prison black market for up to $200.  In some US prisons, contraband cigarettes have been reported as selling for up to $8 each.  In Indiana, the delay in prisoners' release dates as a result of cigarette violations has been estimated to cost the State as much as $6.6 million a year.

"Despite the fantasies of Minister McDowell, serious opinion agrees that we can never completely eliminate illegal drugs from prison.  This fact was admitted by the POA only yesterday.  If we are not able to keep illicit drugs out of prisons, does anyone really believe we can keep out a legal drug such as tobacco, which is available at every corner shop?" said Mr. Lines. 

"While we certainly need a sensible policy that respects the rights of prison staff and non-smoking prisoners, this can easily be accomplished without creating the security and violence problems associated with outright prohibition."