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Filth, squalor and violence but at least smoking is banned

I like and admire Rory Stewart.

Writer, diplomat, politician, few MPs have a CV like his.

What an asset he would be as a senior minister in the Foreign Office. Or so you would have thought.

Instead he’s currently in charge of England’s prisons, overseeing a system in which incidents of self-harm and violent assaults are at record levels.

Meanwhile the chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke has just written a damning report on HMP Birmingham which he describes as the worst prison he has ever been to.

According to the BBC:

Inspectors found blood, vomit and rat droppings on the floor, sleeping staff, cockroaches and an overpowering smell of drugs.

Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4's Today "surely somebody must have been asleep at the wheel".

"Squalor, filth, the air hanging heavy with the smell of drugs, a dilapidated physical environment, a sense of great instability of feeling that of any time violence could break out.

“This is the only jail, and I've visited many jails now, where I personally was forced to leave a wing because of the effect the drugs were having on me," he said.

On Friday, before these revelations, Rory Stewart hit the headlines by saying he would resign ‘if he hasn't managed to reduce drugs and violence levels in 10 target jails in England’ (BBC News).

If only more minsters took responsibility like this.

My respect for him is qualified however because, in June, Rory Stewart sat before a Commons committee and later tweeted that he was “Delighted to confirm that we have just achieved one hundred per cent smoke free prisons.”

Addressing the committee he announced that this was one of two major achievements (“2,500 extra prison officers” being the other) his department had achieved in the last year.

Bizarrely, he also boasted that “We were ahead of the Scots and we’ve done it.”

Now, I honestly don’t know whether the smoking ban has exacerbated problems with drugs and violence in England’s prisons.

According to Stewart, in a letter to Bob Neil, chairman of the Justice Select Committee:

During implementation, there have been some incidents of low level disorder; and a small number of more serious incidents involving groups rather than a single prisoner. But the occasions when Gold Command has been opened to manage an incident when smoke free was initially sighted as a contributing factor have been in single figures. All other incidents have been successfully managed within the establishment and good order and control has been resumed. All serious incidents are fully investigated and so far it appears the ban is if anything, only a minor contributory factor.

That may be so but I still think it’s a scandal that, at a time when the use of illegal drugs and incidents of violent crime are so high, and the chief inspector of prisons talks of “squalor”, “filth” and a sense that “violence could break out” at any time in one of England’s largest jails, the prisons minister considers it a major achievement to have prohibited smoking, a rather lesser evil in the overall scheme of things.

For the record, here’s Forest’s reaction to Rory Stewart’s announcement on Friday:

Forest has urged the government to tackle the problem of drugs and violent assaults in England's prisons by amending the prison smoking ban and allowing designated smoking areas.

The call follows the announcement by prisons minister Rory Stewart that he will resign if the use of drugs and assaults do not fall in ten problem jails.

Simon Clark, director of Forest, said:

"Incidents of self-harm and assaults in prisons are at record levels and the use of illegal drugs is rife, yet the government insists on banning tobacco, a legal product.

"Allowing prisoners to smoke might actually help address the far more serious problems Rory Stewart is trying to solve."

Challenging the prisons minister – who in June tweeted, 'Delighted to confirm that we have just achieved one hundred per cent smoke free prisons' – to amend the ban on smoking in prisons, Clark said:

"By offering to resign if his programme of reforms doesn't succeed, Rory Stewart has shown himself to be an honourable politician.

"But he also needs to be pragmatic and in the real world a substantial number of prisoners enjoy smoking.

"No-one should be surprised that if you take away one of their few pleasures there will be negative consequences.

"We challenge Mr Stewart to test the theory by allowing designated smoking areas in half of the ten problem prisons he has chosen to target.

"He can then compare one set of prisons against the other to see if permitting smoking makes any difference to the problem of drugs and violent assaults."

See: Prisons minister urged to amend prison smoking ban

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Reader Comments (5)

The government here has made a colossal faux pas, unfortunately they will not back down I fear until there is numerous deaths caused by this decision, outside of prisons a lot of people will put up with bullying for a quiet life, however in prison life could be anything but quiet. Also most of the people in prison are smokers and quite a few of them are hard men or women, who when push comes to shove will not be bullied without some serious consequences. Unfortunately the people who will suffer most will be the prison officers who are only trying to do their jobs. The one thing they do not need is some idiots idea of a perfect world in which nobody smokes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018 at 15:45 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Kerr

Great idea but he would never accept your challenge because it might just work. The anti smoker stooges, which Stewart is in this case, avoid any kind of rigourous testing of their science or exposure of daft policies as positively dangerous on society whether plain packs to boost the black market and it's access to children, or irritating and unacceptable bans in tinder box institutions already set to blow.

Stewart will blame anything but the smoking ban and, as with all of their junk, it will become a truth.

I used to respect him as an honest and principled politician but he's just another blinkered in the pocket anti on the great public hate campaign wagon pushing his own prejudices.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018 at 15:54 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

“Now, I honestly don’t know whether the smoking ban has exacerbated problems with drugs and violence in England’s prisons.”

Well, nobody does know, though, do they? Because even if the ban in prisons, like the ban in pubs, is immediately followed by a sudden drastic change in circumstances, the people who imposed them simply won’t look at the possibility, because they know darned well that the timing will be just too exact for them to deny that there’s any connection at all. So the smoking ban, again, just as in pubs, becomes a very large elephant in the room that no-one’s got the courage to point out. But c’mon - anyone with a modicum of common sense knows that even those of us who aren’t of a criminal inclination are becoming increasingly furious about the unfairness of bans and the unrelenting prejudice heaped upon us, so it certainly doesn’t take Einstein to work out how someone of a violent, or emotionally trigger-happy disposition might react to such treatment. And of course the withdrawal of tobacco – useful to prison life as it was, both as a calming leisure activity and as unofficial “currency” – has simply resulted in its replacement by something else, in this case illegal drugs.

It really isn’t rocket science. Or maybe it is to the people who have imposed these bans and who, as, I’ll wager, non-smokers, simply don’t “get” smoking, don’t understand what smokers get out of it, and have even less idea of how its enforced removal negatively affects them. My guess is that, like most non-smokers, they simply thought that after imposing a ban, smokers “simply wouldn’t smoke any more,” and that life would continue as normal, but just without smoking. How incredibly naïve they were ....

Wednesday, August 22, 2018 at 2:27 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

I would have respect for him if he takes your advice and allows smoking in designated areas - and prisoners' cells - but not until. At present, I have zero respect due to his cowardice in following the script.

People who are obsessed with political correctness do not care one iota whether the outcomes of their actions are positive or negative, just that the script must be followed, and that means "smoke-free". Of course, no prison is smoke-free, so he's a liar. If prisoners can't get 'contraband' tobacco, they boil up nicotine patches and other ingredients and mix the resulting product with tea to be rolled in pages of the Bible to be smoked, tampering with lighting and electrical appliances to light this "teabacco".

But, hey, it's all about health and that must be so wholesome, like the 'spice', etc. that's been a big problem.

I received two letters from Mr Rory Stewart via my MP after I challenged the legality of the ban, e.g. the UK is a signatory to the UN's "Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ". I also challenged it on the grounds that a black market would emerge, that prisoner and staff safety would be compromised, etc.

Despite being (supposedly) a minister at the Dept. of Justice, Mr Stewart's response was solely about health - i.e. the exaggerated dangers of SHS and not the dangers relating to teabacco, a black market, increased violence, etc.

These threats are non-existent to the PC puppets because, as I said, outcomes are of no interest. Ideology is everything - facts and experience, therefore, count for nothing.

Of course, any halfwit can plainly tell that the prison smoking ban is totally unnecessary, spiteful and sadistic.

Monday, August 27, 2018 at 5:41 | Unregistered CommenterStewart Cowan

I agree Simon, Rory Stewart gets a lot right but creating a smokerphobic environment in prisons is a policy of self harm.

Monday, August 27, 2018 at 11:47 | Unregistered CommenterFredrik Eich

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