From prisoners to patients
Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at 18:39
Simon Clark

I was on Reporting Scotland (BBC Scotland) last week discussing the prison smoking ban.

The same day, following the announcement of a smoking ban in La Moye prison, Jersey, I was interviewed for another evening news programme, on ITV News Channel TV.

"No-one has the right to smoke in jail," I said, "but smoking is one of the few pleasures many prisoners have.

"At the very least inmates should be allowed to light up outside, in an exercise yard or designated smoking area."

The prison rulebook was in the news again this week following a report about the contents of an 87-page manual published by HM Prison and Probation Service.

The Sun broke the story on Monday but Richard Littlejohn summed things up nicely in today’s Daily Mail. Headlined These crazy prison rules on alcohol and sex get my goat, Fletcher, it began:

Prisoners will soon be able to drink alcohol and have sex in their cells without facing disciplinary charges, under new guidelines from the Ministry of Justice.

They will also escape punishment for assaulting other inmates and absconding, provided they can come up with a reasonable excuse.

Last night we learned jails are to get photo booths so that prisoners can have snaps taken with their families.

This latest gimmick comes on top of painting walls pink, installing telephones in cells and allowing inmates to stroke pet goats.

To assess the impact, we cross to Slade Prison, where Norman Stanley Fletcher is relaxing on his bunk ...

To be honest, I don't feel strongly either way about allowing prisoners to drink alcohol, have sex or paint their walls pink.

Prison shouldn't be too comfortable. On the other hand, being sent to jail is a big punishment for most people and sometimes, in order to reduce the tensions and boredom that can lead to violence and self harm, governors have to find innovative solutions.

These more liberal rules do however make the smoking ban look even more punitive. If inmates are allowed alcohol, photo booths and cell phones (no pun intended), it seems ridiculous to stop them smoking anywhere on site.

To paraphrase David Hockney, "prisons aren't health clubs" and no-one should be forced to quit smoking, not even prisoners.

Meanwhile I was on BBC Wiltshire this morning talking about hospital smoking bans. I was up against a local man, an ex-smoker of three years, who naturally loved the idea.

Thanks to Public Health England, most hospitals in England are now 'smoke free' in the sense that they have a policy of banning smoking anywhere on site, including car parks.

In practice a lot of people ignore these 'voluntary' bans but what I find so unpleasant is the pettiness that lies behind policies that are intended to force patients to either quit smoking or light up off site, while staff who turn a blind eye or are minded to help are threatened with disciplinary action.

It’s come to something when hospital patients are treated little better than prison inmates.

Welcome to ‘our’ NHS, 2019.

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