Banning smoking in prisons is a stupid idea.

Good news, at least for a while, because the Court of Appeal has ruled that the 2007 ban doesn’t apply to state prisons. Why is this good news? Oh yeah, because riots are a really bad thing.

Perhaps even worse than riots though is self harm in prisons. Why do I mention this? Because many of the prisoners in the UK’s overcrowded prison system are essentially on a 23 hour lock down, and the ones that aren’t suffer from a shortage of staff and productive things to do. We haven’t had a prison riot in years, but what we have seen is a huge increase in self harm. (This of course could be the subject of another blog post, but what good is done simply locking prisoners up for such long periods? Do you think that they will be come productive members of society?)

With this in mind, what on earth do you think banning prisoners from smoking will do? “The number of self-injury incidents recorded in prisons in England and Wales rose by 21 per cent in the 12 months to the end of June 2015. The number of serious assaults on prisoners and staff rose by 31 per cent and 42 per cent respectively over the same period.” There are around 24,000 self harm incidents in UK prisons annually out of a population of 80,000.

I think therefore there are bigger things to be worrying about than smoking in prisons. Around 80% of prisoners smoke, with a large part being that there is nothing to do in prison. Socialising with a cigarette (when allowed too) is a good coping mechanism, which is why so many prisoners do it.

The same is of mental health hospitals, where “If you didn’t join the smokers on the bench outside you ended up feeling pretty isolated, she (Sophie) says.” Despite being told by the Kings Fund in 2006 “to those who are concerned that the proposed Health Bill infringes smokers’ rights, it is important to point out that the ban will prohibit only indoor smoking and that patients will still be able to smoke outdoors” there is a push to ban smoking outdoors as well. Why on earth would you want to be so cruel?

These two issues of course being different, but similar in a crucial way; giving up smoking is incredibly stressful, and being in prison or a mental health hospital is not the right time to think about forcing people to do so. When the Government says that the ruling mean “means it can carry on with its plans to roll out a ban gradually ‘in a safe and secure way’ rather than rushing it through.” I hope it means in a very long time indeed, and tackles the more pressing issues in mental health hospitals and prisons before it bans smoking completely.


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