Breath of fresh air for prisoners

03:19, Jul 03 2012

Inmates and staff at Manawatu Prison are financially and physically better off than they were a year ago after smoking was banned in New Zealand prisons.

In March last year, the Manawatu Standard reported on concerns that the ban, which took effect on July 1 last year, could lead to an increase in violence and contraband smuggling among the prison's 290 inmates.

But Manawatu Prison manager Peter Howe, who himself quit smoking, said the ban had worked ``extremely well'' for inmates and the 109 staff members.

About 80 per cent of prisoners were smokers in July last year, he said.

"There was little reaction in terms of resistance from prisoners because they could see it was fair,'' he said.

"I think the fact that it was universal and that both prisoners and staff couldn't smoke helped. I think, maybe it was the motivation they needed [to quit] and it has gone down just as well for staff.''


Staff and prisoners were offered Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and  access to  Quitline.

As of yesterday, there were 50 prisoners on the 14-week NRT course.

Mr Howe said the ban had saved prisoners' families money.``We've had some prisoners' families visit us and thank us for not having to put money into `Joey's' account for cigarettes any more.''

Corrections chief executive Ray Smith said the ban had reduced smoking-related illnesses in prisons.

"Not only has the air quality of prisons improved, there has also been a drop in asthma and other respiratory symptoms and smoking-related illnesses in prisoners,'' he said.

"Making prisons smoke-free was the single most important health initiative we could have done.''

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley said the first anniversary of the ban on smoking in prisons was a significant milestone, as facilities were now safer and healthier for everyone.

"Safety is much improved, with offenders no longer having access to lighters and matches.

"This has meant a 72 per cent reduction in fire-related incidents, down from 76 in the year before the ban, to 21 in the year following the ban.

"It has also removed the opportunity for prisoners to use lighters to melt plastic into dangerous weapons.''

Manawatu Standard