Monday, October 5, 2015

Prison Smoking Ban

So. Let’s ban smoking in prisons. Simple, innit? As ever with all things prison, it’s far more complicated. Somehow these complexities are overlooked.
The sole reason I can uncover for this policy is Health and Safety – the Prison Officers Association are complaining about the foul air their members must inhale while in cells. Which are the only places in prison where smoking remains permitted – even smoking in the open air is usually prohibited (giving the lie to the health and safety rationale).
However, when the national smoking ban was introduced several years ago, and smoking was restricted to cells in prison, procedures were put in place to address this concern. Staff were meant to give a heads-up shout to prisoners as staff were conducting daily cell-checks, so that prisoners could air out the cells. Just to be very clear on this point: procedures were put in place to address staff safety, but staff have never used these procedures. There is no need for any member of staff to enter a smoky cell – unless they allow it to happen. And they do. And in the face of this lazy whine, a total ban on smoking in prisons is planned.
Unlike tobacco in the wider society, tobacco in prison plays a huge role in prisoners’ lives. Tobacco isn't merely a diversion. It is the default prisoner currency, the standard unit of trade that all other commodities are valued against. As such, banning it would have the same social effects as if Government suddenly banned the cash in your wallet or purse. Sans tobacco, some other substance will become the default currency and the only candidate is heroin.
There will, of course, be bits of tobacco smuggled in. Realistically, though, tobacco is bulky and not very smuggle-able. Especially when compared to the size and value of heroin. And the main channel of getting tobacco from one side of the wall to the other will invariably be prison staff – the very group that the Prison Service prefers to think of as whiter than white.
With the current medium of exchange prohibited, waves of disruption will flow through the social structure. Those who "baroned" tobacco – burn, snout – will be worthless, their ability to calm a stressed prison gone. In their place will rise, to a more embedded level than currently, those who deal in the "powders". But tobacco barons have always been a stabiliser, a bank, a bureaux de change, will the flow of tobacco being largely consistent. Heroin, in contrast, leads to some prisoners wielding undue influence – "powder power" – but inconsistently. Supplies of drugs are far more uncertain and temporary, leaving the suppliers in a shaky socioeconomic position and as such as likely to prompt instability as anything else.
Tobacco is also used by the Prison Service as an intelligence tool. Every Wing Manager has traditionally had a few packets of tobacco to hand, to dish out to the passing casual informers. This will now end. On a wider scale, by tracking tobacco purchases from the prison shop – the "canteen" – managers have been able to discern economic activity. This activity is often tied to broader prisoner activities and can highlight the wheelers and dealers. A non-smoker buying lots of tobacco is obviously "up to something"! Whether this oversight of prisoners’ economic activity has ever led to more substantial intelligence is unknown; what is known is that this source of intelligence will now cease.
The practicalities of the ban are yet to be made known, probably to be developed as this policy is rolled out. It begins in Wales early next year. Whatever details are developed, all have to face the reality that nicotine is one of the most addictive of substances and prison is the last bastion of smokers. And 50,000 smokers deprived of their fix will be a fearsome thing.
Obviously, the Healthcare departments of each prison (now NHS run) should be stocking up on Nicotine Replacement Therapies, such as patches. The problem with all of these poor substitutes is that they have success rates lower than a rugby player with a lion on his shirt. As for E-cigarettes; these would be a perfect medium. Alas, E-cigs require chargers, which can also be used to charge illegal mobile phones. How the Prison Service faces this challenge will be interesting. What will be offered medically will be risible and not cull the cravings of the masses.
Banning tobacco, then, will have the key consequences of instantly dismantling economic structures which have stood for decades; will destabilise the social structure; reduce intelligence; tempt staff to smuggle; and throw social power into the corrosive and unstable hands of heroin dealers.

I can't think of a more damaging policy.


  1. Yes but - I think similarly - however there are several countries that have done it - have you checked out how it was achieved and what the consequences were and are?

    As an aside - in the seventies and eighties and nineties - I only smoked cigarettes on prison visits - I admit - I used cigarettes as a way to gain acceptance from prisoners in my work as a probation officer AND I did not claim the cost on expenses.

    The Borstal Group I ran in 1980s the pay of for attendance was two cigarettes for everyone present, I heard similar from a member of Alcoholics Anonymous who took part in prison groups in the 1970s.

    it is true cigarettes are currency in gaols.

    1. "there are several countries that have done it - have you checked out how it was achieved and what the consequences were"

      One of the Australian states did it recently. The instant result, to nobody's amazement, was a massive riot.

  2. Another factor to consider is the number of prisoners with mental health issues - it's well-known that schizophrenics are almost always heavy smokers and tobacco seems to have a calming effect.

    1. Still early days, but the emerging evidence is that tobacco is a cause of some mental health problems particularly schizophrenia

    2. Sadly despite Gove the Secretary of State's pronouncements at the Tory Party Conference in Manchester yesterday, unless there is a real revolution that either brings in much extra funding or greatly reduces the numbers in prisons, there are unlikely to be sufficient good mental health treatment facilities in prison whether prisoners are allowed to smoke or forced not to smoke.

      I am very pessimistic about new broom optimism that ignores a real acknowledgement of the poor state of things now. I have heard more prisons and probation ministers come out with such stuff than I can recall the names off!

  3. The oils doped in nicotine for E-cigs come in very small pots. Very easily smuggled and E-cigs are not the only way they could be used. Heat only is required, put a drop in a bowl, add boiling water, place towel on head, inhale. Other methods will be available.

  4. The Health & Safety Executive clearly state within their document OC255/15 “ In essence, HSE cannot produce epidemiological evidence to link levels of exposure to SHS to the raised risk of contracting specific diseases”

  5. Smoking is a Pleasure for many incarcerated People perhaps just having a smokers wing determine on Reception problem sorted

  6. What about all the smokers who are addicted to Nicotine that will be shear torment being told NO FAGS ime glad ime not in Prison, my Prison career is well over

  7. I've met Mr "know it all Ben Gunn" ��

  8. Last time I came across your blog you were still inside. I lost track of the blog with the crash of my old computer. Chance has located your blog again and I am glad you have been released. I hope you are doing well and best wishes for the future.

  9. off topic, but i found this.

  10. Debate all you want, my friend. But let's not forget one important thing... it is not a democracy. Prison is prison. And it is governed by Her Majesty's Home Office, not by cons and not by the limp-wristed lefties!

    A decent blog, though.

    Come write an article for mine, if you like. Could be interesting!


  11. When I first heard of this I immediately thought: "what a silly idea. And a needless sudden policy." - Of course, Ben, you spell it out in more detail, as usual!

  12. Thanks for writing such a good article, I stumbled onto your blog and read a few post. I like your style of writing...
    Tobacco Machinery

  13. Yes for the ban, I don’t expect it to do much good though. The bus stops are often camped by smokers and I have to hold my breath when I walk buy. But especially for the prison I must say that before going to be banned smoking in the prison we must aware them or trained them through meditation or hypothesis etc for this action. Otherwise it become difficult for them to live.

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  15. I appreciate your insight on smoking in prison, and I wanted to add more. Many people are quick to say who cares about the jails. My thinking is what about the innocent in jail waiting to prove they were wrongly jailed. Should they have to endure the smoke when they shouldn't even be there?

  16. I have helped a lot of people stop smoking over the past few years, although my own struggle with cigarettes continues to be tempestuous!
    quit smoking today

  17. where to buy glass pipes online
    Sell Water Bongs and Pipes For Smoking

  18. Thank you for sharing valuable information.



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