Ex-prisoners speak out on smoking ban

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The Isle of Man’s prison authorities remain adamant the prison smoking ban is working, despite a number of claims to the contrary from ex prisoners.

The prison’s deputy governor Nigel Fisher recently told the Isle of Man Newspapers the smoking ban was effectively enforced and a report two years ago claiming the situation was out of control with the ban routinely flouted was ‘somewhat exaggerated’.

Ex-prisoner Steve Dockerill explains how inmates make their own cigarettes to escape the smoking ban inside prison

Ex-prisoner Steve Dockerill explains how inmates make their own cigarettes to escape the smoking ban inside prison

But following that statement a number of former inmates have contacted the paper to dispute this.

‘The lads make up their own cigarettes which is obviously 10 times more harmful - so it’s obviously not working,’ said Aaron Roberts from Anagh Coar who served a couple of weeks two years ago.

He said cigarettes were often fashioned using Bible pages as cigarette papers stuck together using wood glue.

‘That’s using pages with ink on and glue so there are chemicals in there.’

All former prisoners who contacted Isle of Man Newspapers said prisoners were using nicotine patches, issued to them to help them stop smoking, to make cigarettes. This was done by boiling them in water to extract the nicotine then soaking anything from tea bags to dried fruit peel or even fluff from the tumble drier - whatever was available - in the fluid. The substances were then dried out, shredded and used in place of tobacco.

If the ban was ignored, he said, it helped to keep the peace: ‘It makes the job easier for the screws. It means less hassle on the wing.

‘I smoked all the time I was in there and I still smoke now,’ he added.

Another former prisoner, John Joyce accused the authorities of lying when they claimed the situation was under control. He said he could see no reason why a compromise couldn’t be reached whereby prisoners were allowed to smoke outside during exercise periods.

Proposals to introduce a similar smoking ban in UK prisons wouldn’t work he added: ‘Some people would do anything for a smoke, and some of them are never getting out anyway: there would be murder.

‘I smoked all the time I was there. Ninety nine per cent of prisoners do smoke and half the screws would like to see smoking allowed there because it takes the tension away.’

Former prisoner Steve Dockerill said the patches had become a sought-after commodity: ‘People have even been attacked for their patches,’ he said, adding he used to trade his patches for cigarettes.

He said many warders turned a blind eye to smoking and prisoners often lit cigarettes by creating sparks from the mains power point in their cells.

However a spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs, which runs the island’s prison said they stood by their assertion that the ban was working.

He said it was reviewed periodically and rigorously enforced. Moreover, prisoners had support to stop smoking and an occasional breach was not the same as every prisoner smoking 40 a day.

‘We do also know of individual prisoners who have thanked the prison authorities for helping them to stop. We have had positive feedback from people who tell us they are off cigarettes for the first time in their lives and as a result they have better health and more money,’ he said.

Deputy prison governor Paul Skillicorn said matches and lighters were banned but anyone found misusing the power points in their cells was subject to the prison’s disciplinary procedure. He added power could be turned off in individual cells which meant prisoners could not use a kettle or television. Tea bags are no-longer available to prisoners, and cells have random inspections.

‘It’s not true that staff turn a blind eye. You can suspect, and you may smell smoke but you have to actually catch people,’ he said.

‘It is policed and disciplinary procedures are used.’

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Island leads way on prison smoking ban

The Isle of Man was one of the first places in Western Europe to introduce a smoking ban in its prisons.

Other countries which also prohibit smoking in their prisons include Guernsey, Canada and New Zealand. The UK government is considering a similar ban in selected prisons in England and Wales which could start next spring.

If successful it could be rolled out across all prisons within 12 months. Inmates in England and Wales have been restricted to smoking in their cells since 2007.

The smoking ban in the Isle of Man was introduced in April 2008, shortly before prisoners vacated the old Victoria Road prison and were moved up to the new building at Jurby.

In October 2011, a report by the inspector of prisons condemned Jurby prison for ‘losing control’ of the smoking ban, claiming it was widely flouted and warders were doing little to enforce it.

According to the report, popular dodges included making cigarettes using nicotine patches and pages torn from Bibles and directories.

The prison’s deputy governor Nigel Fisher said criticisms about the ban contained in the report were exaggerated and the benefits far outweighed any difficulties and it also saved prison staff, visitors and other prisoners from suffering the effects of passive smoking.

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