Prisoners are being offered e-cigarettes in preparation for a ban on smoking in jails in England and Wales. A pilot project is under way at three prisons. Prisoners are being offered e-cigarettes as part of long-term planning towards introducing a full ban on smoking in jails in England and Wales. A pilot project is under way at three prisons to find out if e-cigarettes are suitable for use following their successful introduction at a jail in Guernsey. Inmates can buy Bull Brand and Nicolite e-cigarettes – as well as tobacco and ordinary cigarettes – at Preston prison, an adult male prison serving central and east Lancashire, HMP Stocken in Rutland, a jail for men serving longer sentences, and Eastwood Park women’s jail, Gloucestershire.
E-cigarettes have not proved popular in the two male prisons, which have a combined population of more than 1,500 inmates. Fifty were purchased in the first week of the pilot but sales have dropped to single figures. The decision to trial the use of ecigarettes follows the postponement this year of plans to introduce a smoking ban in all jails in England and Wales amid concern that it could provoke riots and disturbances in the overcrowded prison estate. The Prison Officers Association will continue with their campaign for a complete ban on smoking in prisons.
“We recognise the concerns that a ban could lead to a loss of control but point to the high secure psychiatric hospitals where a ban has been successfully implemented. “Inmates at the three jails are allowed to purchase disposable e-cigarettes from the prison shops following clearance that there would be no security risk caused by their use behind bars. Officials ruled out rechargeable e-cigarettes because they feared inmates might find ways of using the charger to charge illicit mobile phones. Les Nicolles jail in Guernsey became smoke-free almost two years ago after allowing inmates to use e-cigarettes as a tobacco substitute as well as give them access to nicotine replacement therapy. Prison staff have been told preparations for a complete ban will take “careful account” what impact it may have on the general safety of staff and prisoners.
About 80 per cent of the 85,400 inmates in Britain smoke and tobacco is a valuable currency that is traded on the wings. Smoking in jails for the under-18s has been banned since 2007 but adult prisons were given an exemption. Inmates are allowed to smoke in their own cell because it has been designated “their permanent or temporary home”. Prisoners are banned from smoking in workshops, education classes and on the wings but can light up when outdoors in the exercise yard. Allowing inmates to smoke in their cells runs the risk that the Ministry of Justice could face compensation claims from officers claiming to be victims of passive smoking.
Officers are advised to check whether an inmate is smoking before they enter a cell and in some cases are advised to wait until the smoke has cleared before going in. In 2005, when he was director-general of the Prison Service, Phil Wheatley warned MPs that a ban could backfire. “You don’t have a lot going for you in prison,” he said. “You are deprived of most things you might ordinarily enjoy . . . To take yet another thing away will not be wildly popular with a group who are not always charming and pleasant in their behaviour. “I would expect to find there was an increase in incidents of assaults on staff. We do need to make sure that we do not cause significant problems for disturbed people arriving with us with already a multitude of problems.”