DUNCAN BARKES: Stopping prisoners from smoking is just draconian

I KNOW it is deeply unfashionable to write about anything that supports our prison population, but a ban on inmates smoking in their cells, as proposed by the Prison Service, is dangerous.

Lags should continue to be allowed their fags.

Bashing those behind bars is something of a national pastime and you may feel it is outrageous that locked up criminals are allowed anything but bread and water past their lips.

I take a more enlightened approach.

The draconian smoking ban of 2007 (just one example of how our civil liberties were snatched away by the Labour government) did not apply to prisons.

As a result of a legal loophole, cells were designated as a ‘permanent or temporary home’. This meant inmates were allowed to carry on smoking.

The Prison Service is aiming to change this and plans to ban smoking in cells and exercise yards in the 123 prisons in England and Wales within the next two years.

They cite the fear of compensation claims from prison officers possibly affected by passive smoking as one reason, and the ever-handy excuse of ‘health and safety’ as another.

It is estimated more than 80 per cent of the prison population are smokers.

When the ban comes in, nicotine fans will be offered patches or electronic cigarettes to ease the pain.

But all of this is highly unnecessary and creates so many problems.

We often hear from prison officers who say that not only do they fear being attacked by prisoners, but that prisons are woefully understaffed.

Taking away the fags from the lags will just inflame the situation.

If smoking reduces stress and thus helps to maintain order, reducing the risk of rioting or a prison officer or inmate being attacked, then so be it.

Furthermore, I do not see why my taxes should be used to fund nicotine patches or electronic cigarettes.

The arguments regarding passive smoking are not conclusive (although I am sure the usual suspects will quickly draw my attention to poorly backed-up research).

I once spent a day in a Liverpool nick working as a journalist.

Being banged up for 23 hours a day is obviously not pleasant.

If a little baccy keeps the peace and doesn’t further stretch an underfunded prison system, why insist on a total stub-out?

Do you agree with Duncan? Do you think prisoners should be allowed to smoke in their cells?

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