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Pulling down the bars on smoking in jail

By Angela van der Horst:

With the NSW jails heading into their third month of being smoke-free zones, questions are being raised about the discriminatory nature of the ban.

The smoking ban was implemented over a period of eighteen months in which Corrective Services and Justice Health workers worked in conjunction. They discussed the effects it would have not only on inmates, but also staff.

The NSW Government put the smoking ban into place in August, only one month after the ban was introduced in Victoria. There was much hesitation from the government about the ban, after the riots it sparked in Victorian jails. NSW Corrective Services believed that through the discussion of the implementation of the non-smoking programs, NSW would see a more successful outcome.

The government’s main aim was to reduce second-hand smoke, protect the health of prison staff, and reduce mortality among prisoners. However, unlike Victorian prisons, NSW prisons have designated smoking areas for prison staff. Inmates believe that the acceptance of smoking from staff is discriminatory, but has also eliminated what was communicated to them as the main purpose of the ban.

Prison workers and inmates are not the only ones not completely on board with the ban. NSW Policeman, Grant Morrissey said that illegal substances should be the primary concern of the NSW Government.

“The current ice epidemic in the state is leading to heightened crime rate, and therefore, full prisons,” said Mr Morrissey.

“Nationally, twice as many people are using the drug ice in Australia than a few years ago.”

Nurse at Parklea Prison, Sue Howlett said that over the past few months she has noticed that the ban has been especially hard on new inmates. She said that cigarettes are often a way to help people coming into jail as some are mentally unwell and detoxing from other substances. Prison staff often used cigarettes to encourage new inmates to cooperate due to them being a legal substance, which could be bought in jails.

The ban came after many other countries had shown to be successful, with NZ prisons now being completely smoke-free environments. However, according to the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, 79 per cent of Australian prisoners smoke, compared to 67 per cent of NZ prisoners.

NSW prisons hold a number of education days and interviews with inmates to accommodate for the high number of smokers, in hope they wish to participate in non-smoking programs. They are then able to begin nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), in which all fresh custodies are given the same opportunity, which will continue in the future.

However, Sue said that inmates are now melting down the nicotine patches they have been given and mixing it with tea leaves to smoke it.

“This is much more toxic than the actual tobacco, with the glue in the patches making a number of inmates sick.”

Sue has been dealing first hand with inmates during the smoking ban, and although a stressful task, she believes that illegal drugs are a primary issue which should be the main focus in many NSW prisons. Her responsibilities as a prison nurse include dealing with general primary health and conducting of health assessments, as well as attending to emergencies and documentation of patient files to ensure continuity of care once inmates are released.

“This smoking ban has shed light on the amount of inmates sharing injecting equipment which then causes transmission of diseases,” said Sue.

“As a nurse, the last thing I want to see on top of that is the health risks associated with the making of their own cigarettes, especially with the knowledge that prison staff may be smoking just outside their confinement.”

Sue, who is a smoker herself, said that prior to the ban being implemented, there was already much resentment from inmates for prison staff being able to smoke freely.

Sue has used this ban as an opportunity to quit the habit and support the inmates in their programs as much as possible.

“There is a support system in place to assist the prisons with quitting, where staff can only seek ongoing help” said Sue.

The ban has impacted on staff in varying ways, with some deciding to quit or reduce their intake, whereas others have taken offence, believing they are being forced into doing something.

While Australia sees a continuance of illegal substances leading to increased crime rate, full rehabs and full jails, NSW prisons will remain on stand by for riots during the implementation stages of the smoking ban.

 

IMAGE: J Bar