Monday 4 September 2017

Send ASH to prison

Mystic Debs does it again - from New Scientist

There is no better way of predicting the future than listening to what Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) have to say and preparing for the exact opposite. Whether they are claiming that high taxes don't cause smuggling, or that smoking bans are good for pubs, or that it makes economic sense for shopkeepers to stop selling cigarettes, the truth can invariably be found by turning their statements at an angle of 180 degrees.

So when prison officers saw this in 2015, they should have been reaching for the tear gas...

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of charity Action on Smoking and Health, said there was no evidence to support claims that depriving prisoners of tobacco could lead to riots.

In a New Scientist article headlined 'I don't predict a riot', Arnott said:

... every time the idea of a ban is raised in the media, the headlines inevitably focus on fears of unrest and riots, rather than the health and wellbeing of inmates and staff.

The hypothesis that depriving smokers of tobacco could destabilise prisons may sound plausible, but there is little evidence to back it up.

As always in 'public health', there is a big difference between what they call 'evidence' and what happens in the real world. There have been numerous prison riots caused by smoking bans, such as those in Quebec in 2008, Kentucky in 2009, Florida in 2013, Queensland in 2014,  Melbourne in 2015 and Victoria in 2015 (the last of these received global news coverage and occurred a month before Arnott's article was published).

Arnott claimed that...

Psychiatric premises, including high-security facilities such as Broadmoor, went completely smoke-free in 2008, without any trouble.

Even this is not true. The smoking ban in psychiatric facilities immediately caused a riot at Ashworth Hospital. And most psychiatric facilities still allow smoking outdoors, although ASH are sadistically working to close that 'loophole'

Over the next few months, a total smoking ban will be 'phased in' across the entire prison estate, indoors and out. They're starting with the Category B and C prisons before moving on to the more problematic high security prisons. Those who know the prison system say that a ban will face the biggest challenges in Category A prisons, but it turns out that banning smoking in Category B and C prisons is not a breeze either.

We want burn!' Rioting prisoners 'demand tobacco' at Birmingham prison with 'one wing lost' as anti-riot teams prepare to storm jail

This follows reports reports in July of a smoking-related riot at Drake Hall Women’s Prison and a nine-hour riot at a Category C prison in Cumbria last month.

These reports only scratch the surface of the trouble caused by banning smoking in prison. A prison riot has to be big before it gets reported in the national press (which usually means something has to be on fire) and sometimes the media will not mention the fact that the smoking ban was the cause - as the BBC's article about the Birmingham riot didn't.

And riots are only the most visible part of the problem. The rise in violence and the increased significance of tobacco as a prison currency are the more persistent problems that plague prisons after bans are introduced. As one prisoner says in this interesting article...

'You've got your violence that'll happen at the start, these riots, that'll die down. You've got your violence that'll come with making baccy contraband – that'll become a way of life.'

It seems to be that since Deborah Arnott and her ASH colleagues have been the main force lobbying for a ban on smoking in prisons, they should be sent into a few jails to explain to the prisoners why they believe it's for their own good. HMP Birmingham would be the ideal place to start.

PS. It appears from the letter below that the prison service did not conduct a risk assessment before introducing the ban (click to enlarge). I guess Arnott's glib assurances were sufficient.

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