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Frances Crook's blog · 3 May 2017

Smoking in prisons

Frances Crook in front of office bookshelves

More prisons are due to ban smoking over the summer. It is difficult to argue that anyone should continue smoking as we all know that it kills, and kills painfully and prematurely.

However, smoking tobacco is a highly addictive habit that is incredibly difficult to kick and people need a great deal of help to stop and stay stopped. It is desirable for prisoners and staff not to smoke and to remain non-smokers for the rest of their lives.

First, a personal confession. Like many teenagers of my generation I started smoking young and carried on the addiction for many years. It took me more than 10 years to stop completely and I admit it was hard to stop.

Prisons should be smoke-free. The challenge is how to achieve this and how to support prisoners

When prisons started to ban smoking there were dire predictions of disorder but it appears that the sky has not fallen in. 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. Prisons are offering courses and medics can provide patches and other aides. But smokers need a variety of props to get through both the first few weeks and longer term.

The NHS advises a better diet, not drinking fizzy drinks, going for a walk and getting more outdoor exercise, and keeping busy. Unfortunately, none of these is feasible in prison.

The food is stodgy and I have never seen the prescribed five a day provided. Prisoners supplement their meagre diet with sweets and fizzy drinks as the only treat available in a bleak world. Obviously going for a walk is out of the question. Few prisoners get any outdoor exercise. Finally, prisons are inactivity, boredom and inertia writ large – nothing happens all day, every day.

Whilst in the care of the state, men, women and children should be encouraged and helped to lead healthy lives. This should include not smoking, but it must also include the means to achieve and sustain this, and that means decent food and exercise and the ability to lead a good and useful life.

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