Smoking could be banned in some UK prisons

UNITED KINGDOM - Smoking could be prohibited across all prisons in England and Wales, the Ministry of Justice said on Friday, amid fears that non-smoking staff and inmates may bring compensation claims.

A pilot scheme is set to be launched next spring banning all tobacco products on the premises of a number of jails in the southwest of England, with a full ban likely to be rolled out within 12 months, the Times newspaper reported.

Under existing rules, which came into force along with a nationwide ban on smoking in public places in 2007, inmates are not allowed to smoke in communal areas inside a prison but can smoke in their cells. Non-smokers do not have to share cells with smokers.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice stressed plans for a ban were at an early stage but added: "We are considering banning smoking across the prison estate and as part of this are looking at possible sites as early adopters."

The move, which Prison Service staff had campaigned for, would have a major impact in prisons where 80 per cent of inmates are believed to smoke, according to NHS figures.

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, told the Times he welcomed the move which he said was necessary to avoid compensation claims for passive smoking.

But he admitted that implementing the ban could cause problems.

"There is no pretending otherwise," Gillan told the paper.

"It could cause disturbances but they have done it successfully in Canada and in young offender institutions in England and Wales.

"We will work with the ministry to make sure it works effectively."

Senior prison staff were informed of the move in a letter, the Times reported.

"You will no doubt be aware that the decision has been made that the time is right for the prison estate to adopt a tobacco and smoke-free policy to provide a smoke-free workplace/environment for our staff and prisoners," the letter read, according to the report.

Prisoners will be offered nicotine patches as a way of dealing with withdrawal symptoms, which it is feared may lead some inmates to violence.