As the prison service became aware it would be required to comply with the workplace-smoking ban, trials with electronic cigarettes took place and prisoners may now buy a specially designed ecig in most establishments.
A memorandum circulated to inmates at HMP Frankland said: “We have now received confirmation that all long term and high security establishments will become completely smoke-free by 31 August.
“We will continue to support prisoners who currently smoke by increasing the number of staff who can deliver ‘stop smoking’ services through the establishment. I encourage you to start your preparation now and apply for ‘stop smoking’ services.”
Despite successful vape trials leading to a product rollout all did not go well in Wales. Twenty-one establishments turned smoke free during 2016, but (despite access to ecigs) increased levels of self-harm, violence and the use of illegal drugs accompanied the move.
The issue, as described by an ex-lag and now prison affairs expert Alex Cavendish, goes beyond whether vaping is an acceptable substitute for smoking: “We have a mental health crisis, fuelled by under-staffing and overcrowding, as well as the fact that prisons are already awash with drugs and mobile phones, as every report from HP Inspectorate confirms. You’ve already got an epidemic of suicide, self-harm and violence both against staff and other inmates.
“The experience of the pilot projects of the smoking ban that they’ve run from last year shows that there are very serious concerns. It seems that this is being rolled out primarily as a means of avoiding potential compensation claims from staff and non-smoking inmates, rather than actually looking at the evidence of the problems that are well-documented.
“If you look at all the reports from prisons where it has been rolled out, they are all pointing to very serious problems, including a massive rise in prisoners turning to other substances, whether they are illegal drugs or the brewing of hooch or smuggling of tobacco at vastly inflated prices.”
More than this, some don’t believe it is even possible to link the unrest directly to vaping not working. Speaking on behalf of The Howard League for Penal Reform, Frances Crook said: “I have visited smoke-free prisons and staff have not reported additional unrest – although this may be because prisons are in such a mess that it is difficult to tell what is the cause of the seething resentment that exhibits in drug-taking, random violence and self-injury. I do think prisons should be smoke-free. The challenge is how to achieve this and how to support prisoners.”
The Prison Officers’ Association is clear on the matter, the ban is long overdue and that their members deserve to work in a place where they are free from second-hand smoke: “Inmates are given plenty of warning about the ban and are given help through nicotine replacement, e-cigarettes and cessation classes.”