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NSW prison smoking ban allows staff to continue with the habit

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New Zealand started it, Northern Territory followed and now most of Australia has banned smoking in prisons. New South Wales is the latest to have joined the ranks to ban smoking in correctional facilities. However, NSW’s recently introduced ban isn’t without controversy, as prison officers are exempt.

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report ‘The health of Australia’s prisoners 2012’, released mid-2013, found that four out of five prisoners reported that they smoke, with 78 per cent saying they smoked daily.

Smoking bans in prisons are complex, and around the world have been controversial and difficult to implement. New Zealand introduced a blanket ban on smoking in correctional facilities in July 2011, but the New Zealand High Court ruled that the ban was unlawful in December 2012. After a lengthy legal battle, Correctional Services amended legislation which reinstated the blanket ban.

New Zealand Corrections Department Chief Executive Ray Smith said that, since the introduction of smoke-free prisons the work environment had improved for staff and prisoners with better air quality and fewer fires.

“Implementing smoke-free prisons was always going to be a serious challenge, and it has gone incredibly well and without major incident. We are the first national prison service to achieve this,” Mr Smith said.

Prisoners were given 12 months to quit smoking before the blanket ban was introduced in July 2011.

Northern Territory prisons have been smoke-free since July 2013, modelling their approach closely on New Zealand’s successful introduction of smoke-free prisons. The Northern Territory introduced a 12 month plan prior to the ban to encourage staff and inmates to quit smoking. Better access to services to help staff and inmates to quit smoking was provided and a comprehensive rather than a partial, smoking ban was introduced.

Much of the rest of Australia followed in Northern Territory’s footsteps with Queensland, Tasmania, and Victoria introducing total bans on smoking in correctional facilities. South Australia is trialling bans at the Adelaide Remand Centre later this year while the ACT has committed to phasing out smoking in prisons, but continues to be elusive with a timeline for the ban. Western Australia currently has no intention to ban smoking from correctional facilities, but they have banned smoking indoors.

NSW’s ban on smoking at correctional facilities was introduced mid-August, but a loophole in the legislation allows staff who live in correctional centres to smoke in designated areas, a move likely to be resented by many prisoners who are being forced to quit.

Inmates’ families have been told by NSW Corrective Services that they won’t be permitted to smoke anywhere on the grounds of a correctional centre which includes car parks or inside their cars during visits.

The smoking ban legislation was amended to allow smoking areas to be declared for staff living in NSW’s 84 prison residences by the Minister for Corrections David Elliot a week before the implementation.

A Corrective Services spokesman told the Sydney Morning Herald that staff who live on Corrective Service NSW sites will be able to smoke while off duty in a designated area outside their accommodation and not visible from any correctional centre.

Monarch University researcher Anita Mackay, who has studied smoking bans in prisons around the world, said that she hasn’t come across a situation where there is a complete ban for imprisoned people, while staff are able to smoke. Given that the justification is to protect the health of staff, it doesn’t really align.

Kirsty Waterford