Authored article

Smoking in prisons

Letter from Prisons Minister Andrew Selous to Robert Neill MP, Chairman of the Justice Select Committee regarding smoking in prisons.

Andrew Selous

I am writing to inform you of my department’s intention to implement a full smoke free policy in all prisons in Wales from January 2016 and at 4 early adopter sites in England (HMPs Exeter, Channings Wood, Dartmoor and Erlestoke) from March. This announcement will be confirmed through a Written Ministerial Statement following recess.

Since the introduction of smoking legislation in 2007, our desire has been to move towards smoke free prisons but, given the high prevalence of smoking and the unique environment of prisons, you will appreciate that implementing smoke free prisons is a difficult thing to do.

National policy currently allows prisoners to smoke in their cells but not in communal areas. The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has continued to keep this issue under review and introduced measures to reduce the risk of exposure to second hand smoke while ensuring order and control is maintained. This requires a careful and phased approach as we move towards fulfilling our long standing goal of smoke free prisons.

Our steps to date include the recent and highly successful roll out of electronic cigarettes to all prisons. These are available in every prison shop and offer a comparable alternative to traditional tobacco products in cost terms. From next month, prisoners in open prisons will not be able to smoke indoors and will only be able to smoke in designated outdoor areas. Plans are also underway to provide voluntary smoke free areas in all prisons from early next year.

However, we need to do more. Two recent academic studies commissioned by NOMS have identified that high levels of second hand smoke in some communal areas are still prevalent in some prisons. These will be published on GOV.UK on 29 September 2015.

The findings of these studies have reinforced our commitment to move towards smoke free prisons as soon as possible in a safe and controlled way.

In developing our plans for smoke free prisons, we have learnt from a number of other jurisdictions who have already successfully implemented a smoke free policy across their prison estate. Canada has been smoke-free since 2008, New Zealand since 2011, and parts of Australia since 2013. Broadmoor Secure Hospital also went smoke free in 2007. We have used the lessons from their experiences to inform our strategy, including a long, phased implementation period, in order to move to smoke free safely.

Following these preparations, we are now ready to move forward with these plans in a controlled and careful way. In partnership with the Welsh Government we will begin to implement a smoke free policy in all prisons in Wales (HMPs Cardiff, Parc, Swansea and Usk/Prescoed) from January 2016, and at 4 prisons in England (HMPs Exeter, Channings Wood, Dartmoor and Erlestoke) from March 2016. From now until the smoke free implementation date these prisons will be encouraging and supporting prisoners to stop smoking through a range of smoking cessation support and advice, including nicotine replacement therapy. We will continue to take a sensible and considered approach, using the experience of the first prisons to go smoke free to inform the speed at which we move to smoke free across our remaining prisons.

We have no plans to move to smoke free prisons overnight and will only do so in a phased way that takes into account operational resilience and readiness of each prison. The operational safety and security of our prisons will always be our top priority.

Published 29 September 2015