New Zealand

Prisoners already threatening guards over smoking ban

Threats from prisoners to guards are already being widely reported as a result of the looming smoking ban in prisons, the Corrections Association says.

President Beven Hanlon said he already had a taste of the resentment some prisoners had, having been personally threatened by an inmate in the gang wing at Hawke's Bay Regional Prison.

"That's the type of stuff we're getting already across the country from the staff," he said today.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins yesterday announced a plan to ban smoking in prisons from July 1 next year, saying second-hand smoke in prisons was a health issue and staff and inmates could sue the Corrections Department because of it. Matches and lighters would also be banned.

Double bunking was also a factor in the move, which would be coupled with measures to help prisoners quit, including nicotine patches and cessation programmes, but it would otherwise be cold-turkey for inmates.

Mr Hanlon told NZPA some prisoners were getting the wrong end of the stick and blaming Corrections officers for the ban, but the first he had heard of it happening was in the news media on Sunday.

He said while it was acceptable to move to end smoking in prisons, the Government was going about it in a way which would simply anger those affected and put the safety of guards at risk.

The association and minister have a frosty relationship, but Mr Hanlon said there needed to be some discussions about the method of introducing the ban, or officers would treat the issue as a genuine health and safety risk.

A spokesman from Ms Collins' office said there would be discussions with both the Corrections and the Public Service Associations, but the ban followed global patterns of increasing restrictions on smoking and changes to the Government's policy were not likely.

Mr Hanlon said he had received feedback over the past couple of days suggesting more practical ways to wean inmates off smoking would be to more strictly enforce smoking in designated areas, and punish breaches.

"Because at the moment we're a little bit lax on it."

He said Australia had a system were lighters were bolted to walls in smoking areas, meaning prisoners could smoke nowhere else.

From there, steps would be taken to reduce smoking hours down to a point where smoking was phased out.

"We just want to manage it properly. There is some anger at the moment and there is going to be anger as things progress, but if we spread that anger out...and we tell them (prisoners) this is how we are going to phase this in, it's going to happen a lot better".

Ms Collins said today she had "every confidence" the Corrections Department would implement the policy successfully.

Former prison manager Celia Lashlie, now a researcher and commentator, told NZPA the ban would push already-volatile prisons closer to major incidents, while opposition leader Phil Goff suggested Ms Collins was being "macho" about it and prison officers would be the ones copping the flak.

(Published by NZ Herald – June 29, 2010)

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