Over the past 20 years, smoking rates in the prison system have not decreased to the same level as seen in the general population. A comprehensive approach is urgently needed.
While smoking rates in prisons are high, a large number of prisoners want to quit. However, due to many barriers prisoners often find it much harder to quit successfully. Barriers may include stress, boredom and lack of access to support services, as well as the acceptability of smoking.
Many employees in correctional services smoke, and tobacco is often used in trade or as a reward for good behaviour. In order to significantly reduce the rate of smoking in prisons throughout Australia, ACOSH is campaigning to implement an all-inclusive smoke free policy across all correctional facilities in WA as is the case in other states and New Zealand.
Smoking rates among prison entrants are extremely high. This population group has one of the highest rates of smoking in Australia, with about 74% of prison entrants reporting that they are current smokers (93% daily smokers). This number has decreased since 2012, when 84% of prisoners were current smokers. Some of this decrease may be due to the introductions of smoking bans in some correctional facilities.
In WA, the figure is about 79% (66% daily and 13% occasional). A small number of prisoners also report starting smoking as a result of being in the prison system (7%).
Smoking bans are currently being implemented in many Australian prisons: in the Northern Territory from July 2013, Queensland from May 2014, Tasmania from February 2015, Victoria from July 2015 and New South Wales from August 2015. ACOSH is advocating for a smoking ban in WA prisons.
As a commonly accepted part of prison life, there are many barriers which make it harder for people in prisons to quit smoking, including:
- Smoking is commonly seen to be a form of stress relief which is a significant problem in this type of environment.
- Cigarettes are used as currency in gambling or other trade.
- Prisoners smoke more due to boredom, especially in maximum security where they spend more time in solitary confinement.
- A large proportion of prison staff smoke, reinforcing the acceptability of smoking.
- Prison staff use cigarettes as a controlling mechanism to reward good behaviour or stop disruptive behaviour.
- Lack of access to support services including NRT and strong targeted programs and resources.
A comprehensive approach is urgently needed to significantly reduce the rate of smoking in prisons throughout WA. This includes implementing an all-inclusive smoke free policy across all correctional facilities as done in other States and Territories and New Zealand.The Northern Territory lead the way in Australia by implementing smoke free policies across all of their correctional facilities.
For more information on smoking among people in correctional facilities, please refer to the following websites:
- Australian Government – Prisoners and recently released prisoners
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare- The health of Australia’s prisoners 2015
For more information about the smoke free prisons in the NT please read the following documents:
- Opinion piece, written by Associate Professor David Thomas
- Successes and unintended consequences of the Northern Territory’s smoke-free prisons policy: results from a process evaluation by Marita Hefler, Robyn Hopkins and Professor Thomas.
- Northern Territory Department of Correctional Services Smoke Free Prisons Policy Preliminary Evaluation Revised September 2014 by Marita Hefler and Professor Thomas.
The outcome to date has been positive, as reported by ABC.