Monday, June 28, 2010

Should Convicts Be Allowed to Smoke?

I'm somewhat conflicted by this BBC story from New Zealand. I want prison to be a miserable experience so that there is a strong deterrent effect. Yet anything that keeps prisoners calm is presumably good for prison management. The guy who sent me this story included a comment that a smoking ban will increase the lifespan of prisoners and that will increase the burden on taxpayers (at least for those serving life sentences). I'm enough of a budget geek that this is a compelling argument for me. Give them all unfiltered cigarettes! (except, of course, the ones in jail for victimless crimes, all of whom should be immediately released).
New Zealand is to ban smoking throughout the country's prisons from 1 July 2011, Corrections Minister Judith Collins has announced. The announcement has prompted concerns that violence in prisons could increase if prisoners are denied tobacco. But Ms Collins dismissed the warnings and said high levels of smoking were a risk to staff and prisoners. About 5,700 prisoners - two-thirds of the current total in New Zealand prisons - are smokers. ...Former inmate Shenelle Ngatai told TVNZ that cigarettes were like gold in prisons, where they are used as currency. She also said that jails would become more corrupt if cigarettes were taken off prisoners. ...Denying inmates their "fix" would lead to an increase in violence between desperate prisoners, she added. Human Rights lawyer Michael Bott agreed that the ban would cause more problems than it might solve. "They are going to be very frustrated, very dangerous; it's a toxic dangerous environment, made even worse by such foolishness as this," he told 3News in New Zealand. However, Ms Collins insists that the smoking ban will have other advantages. It would make it easier to put more than one prisoner in each cell, she said, and reduce the number of prison officers suing the government for being exposed to second-hand smoke.

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