Smoking Ban Proposed For UK Prisons, Riots Predicted

Smoking may soon be banned in prisons across the United Kingdom, but critics fear the measure could lead to violence and even rioting from pent-up prisoners.

The UK’s Ministry of Justice on Friday announced a pilot program that would ban all tobacco products from select jails in southwest England. A full smoking ban across all prisons could be implemented within a year.

In 2007, the UK instituted a ban on smoking in all public places. As a result, inmates have been barred from smoking in shared areas but have been allowed to smoke inside their prison cells.

Now that could be gone too.

“We are considering banning smoking across the prison estate and as part of this are looking at possible sites as early adopters,” said a spokesperson at the Ministry of Justice.The move would have a wide-ranging effect on prisons. An estimated 80 percent of inmates are smokers, and the Prison Officers’ Association had expressed fears that non-smokers may begin to bring lawsuits for complications developed from secondhand smoke.

The proposal has been met with skepticism by many in the UK. Eric Allison, a columnist for the Guardian newspaper, predicted that the measure could lead to violence inside prisons.

“Although prisoners are less politicised now than in the last decades of the 20th century, when riots erupted across the penal estate, the smokers in the system will surely unite to resist the ban on one of the few pleasures they enjoy,” Allison wrote.

Prison officials said the smoking ban would be implemented carefully, adding that other locations have successfully barred smoking in prisons.

“It could cause disturbances but they have done it successfully in Canada and in young offender institutions in England and Wales,” said Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association. “We will work with the ministry to make sure it works effectively.”

After the smoking ban, prisoners would be offered nicotine patches to help them in their transition to quitting.