Inside Time Articles

Ryan Harman, PRT's advice and information service manager, writes a regular column for the prison newspaper Inside Time, you can read his articles here.

Smoke free prisons
01/12/2017 00:01:00 by Ryan Harman

It has been impossible to pick up a copy of Inside Time in recent months without being struck by one thing—the impact of the move to smoke-free prisons is being felt across the prison estate. Reactions have been mixed—though most smokers are understandably upset by the change, some have been glad of the incentive to quit. There are mixed reactions from non-smokers too—some pleased about the potential improvements for their health whilst others concerned that the subsequent unrest is far from ideal in a system which is already under pressure.

This change has been taking place in a staged process since NOMS announced their commitment in 2015, with Wales and prisons in the South West being the first to make the move last year. YOIs, Mental Health Units and high security hospitals have also been smoke-free for some time. The policy is national, and includes all prisons in the public and private estate, for men and women alike. The process is expected to be completed by the end of March 2018.

As prisons go smoke-free, a variety of support should be available through healthcare including psychosocial interventions, nicotine replacement therapies such as patches and lozenges, and medication if needed. If you do not wish to engage with healthcare, electronic cigarettes and patches should also be available on canteen.

One question that we have heard regularly is whether banning smoking in prisons is a breach of Human Rights. There is actually no ‘right to smoke’ recognised in our law or by the European Court of Human Rights. Some people have argued that a smoking ban breaches Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 which is the ‘right to a private and family life’. However, it is more complicated than that. Article 8 is a ‘qualified right’ which means it can be restricted if needed to balance with the interests or rights of others. On the other hand, Article 2, the ‘right to life’, is an ‘absolute right’ which means it cannot be taken away under any circumstances or for any reason. Therefore, any right to smoke that might come under Article 8 can be restricted if it interferes with another person’s right to life, such as harm to health caused by second-hand smoke.

Most importantly, if you do not feel that you are getting the support you need to cope with these changes, make sure you raise this with healthcare and/or prison staff and use the internal complaints procedures if necessary.

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 3.30-5.30. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin. Please note, the above article focusses on prisons in England and Wales and may not apply elsewhere.

Please be aware that, from 2nd January 2018 our infoline times are changing. We will be discontinuing our Tuesday afternoon session and replacing it with a Wednesday morning session from 10.30am to 12.30pm. We hope this will give people a different opportunity to call us and is based on feedback we received from service users earlier this year.