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Deborah Arnott and the national smoke free prisons project board

The psychoactive drug Spice is fuelling prison debt and violence, according to new research published today:

With Spice selling for up to £100 a gram in prison, some quickly got into debt and turned to crime to pay it off, according to the report by HM Inspectorate of Probation.

"Those in debt were often involved in violent incidents where threats were made to family members, with some stating that they offended to repay the debts they had built up in prison," the report said.

What the Sky News report doesn't say is that Spice is now half the price of tobacco in prisons, a consequence, it seems, of the smoking bans that are being rolled out in Britain's jails.

The potential link was underlined earlier this month by HM Inspectorate of Prisons which published another report on the subject of Spice. According to the Independent:

In HMP Erlestoke “prisoners also told us that the price of Spice was around half of that for illicit tobacco, which encouraged more Spice use than we have seen in similar prisons recently,” the report states.

Inmates reported “frequent medical emergencies, some very serious” as a result of use of the drug. This was partly because prisoners were smoking the synthetic cannabis substitute without diluting it with tobacco.

“Many prisoners we spoke to said that the availability of drugs, coupled with the recent smoking ban, had contributed to a widespread sense of hopelessness," the report states.

If the smoking ban is partly to blame for this, shouldn't we be holding the responsible parties to account?

Arguably the most prominent advocate of the prison smoking ban was the Prison Officers Association. Beyond that it’s difficult to point the finger at any other group or body with any degree of certainty.

For example, replying yesterday to a written parliamentary question tabled by Philip Davies MP, Sam Gyimah, parliamentary under secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, stated:

The Prison Governors Association (PGA) made no representation on the banning of the use of tobacco on the prison estate.

Surprisingly, according to Gyimah, the government received no representations from ASH either. Then again, ASH had no need to lobby for a prison smoking ban because, according to the MoJ:

The Director of ASH, Deborah Arnott, is a member of the national smoke free prisons project board and is informed of the progress of the roll out.

To be honest, I had no idea there was a 'national smoke free prisons project board', far less that the CEO of ASH was a member of it.

I've just searched 'smoke free prisons project board' online and I can't find a single reference to anything with that name so who else is on the 'board' is a complete mystery.

What is clear is that while ASH may not have lobbied the government for a prison smoking ban, their CEO was influencing ministers and civil servants in other ways.

Equally certain is the fact that, despite the evidence, no tobacco control campaigner will ever accept there is a link betweenative the increased use of a psychoactive drug that has been fuelling violence in Britain's jails, and the prohibition of smoking.

Forget the negative and potentially violent consequences. The only thing that matters is that inmates are banned from smoking tobacco. Job done.

Btw, I'm not alone in having never heard of the 'national smoke free prisons project board'. Did they make it up in response to Philip Davies' question? Who knows, but watch this space.

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