Tuesday’s riot at Melbourne’s Ravenhall remand centre has triggered debate about the smoking ban that has been implemented in Victorian Prisons.
The riot, allegedly over the ban on cigarettes and tobacco that was implemented on Wednesday, lasted for 15 hours and resulted in heavily-armed police storming the maximum security prison in order to quell the rioters.
While Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and the Corrections Commissioner Jan Shuard have insisted that the ban will not be removed, MP Fiona Petten from the Australian Sex Party has suggested that a designated area should be set up so that inmates can smoke without impacting on the health of other prison inmates or staff.
RMIT Associate Professor Jennifer Martin argues that many people with mental health issues (almost two in five prion entrants currently receive medication for a mental health disorder) rely on smoking to deal with stress or boredom. “It is important to help the person maintain their dignity, their self-respect and their coping mechanisms in what is an extremely difficult environment,” she said to reporters.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, approximately 84% of people entering Victoria’s correctional facilities smoke and about 20% of the prison population have attended quit programs up until the end of May.
However, Associate Professor Renee Bittoun from the University has argued that the government had a duty of care towards prisoners as much as the rest of the population, citing that just as alcohol should not be allowed in workplaces, neither should smoking.
“We really do have a duty of care to help smokers, no matter who they are or where they are, to quit smoking. It’s our responsibility,” she said.
Indeed, a US study found that there is a link between prison smoking bans and a reduction in major smoking-related health conditions amongst the prisoner population, while an Irish study found that 44% of non-smoking prison workers working in facilities without a smoking ban had carbon monoxide levels that were equivalent to those of a light to heavy smoker.
Victoria is not the first State to enforce smoking bans in correctional facilities, with bans currently implemented in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Tasmania, and with New South Wales and South Australia to follow.
Police announced on Wednesday evening that there will be an investigation into the riot.
Smoking bans in correctional facilities is just one of the many topics that will be discussed at the 6th Annual Correctional Services Healthcare Summit on the 24th and 25th of August at the Rendezvous Grand Hotel Melbourne, Australia.