New Zealand is the first country in the world to completely ban smoking in prisons nationwide. The Smoke-free Prisons policy was introduced without incident on 1 July 2011, following a comprehensive and well-planned 12-month lead-in period.
Cleaner air in prisons, and a reduction in smoking-related illnesses are just some of the benefits one year on.
The achievement was acknowledged on 27 June 2012 – nearly a year since implementation – when Corrections won the Talent2 Award for Excellence in the Public Sector Communications category at the Institute of Public Administration New Zealand (IPANZ) Gen-i Awards.
The Awards recognise outstanding achievements in the public sector, and Corrections was one of 27 finalists across eight categories chosen from more than 70 nominations.
Corrections commissioned an independent evaluation to determine the success of the policy. Five prison sites were visited as part of the evaluation data and research gathering.
- There were no incidents of violence associated with the policy. Although several serious potential risks were identified – none of them eventuated. At two of the prisons visited, tensions between prisoners and between prisoners and staff actually improved.
- The number of fires lit by prisoners reduced markedly.
- No evidence was found of staff smoking within the secure perimeter.
- Staff reported improvements in working conditions, appreciating the benefits of the smoke-free environment, with many giving up or cutting down their smoking.
Justifying the IPANZ nomination, the evaluation found that staff understood the purpose of the smoke-free policy, and were committed to its success.
Staff and prisoners were positive about the promotional activities used in the lead up to the ban and staff had introduced a number of innovative activities to support the policy.
“We’ve had some very big thank yous from a couple of prisoners who feel so much better – asthmatics that are suddenly not using their Ventolin all the time.” – Health staff member at Otago Corrections Facility.
“People would say ‘no, I could never quit’, but now they know that they can.” – Health staff member at Otago Corrections Facility.
“It’s a healthier environment for both staff and prisoners.” – Custodial staff member at Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility.
Benefits for prisoners included an improvement in their health, finances and confidence, as well as becoming positive role models for children and wider whänau.
“I will definitely remain smoke-free. I will never ever smoke again. I didn’t start until I was 27 and that’s because I was in prison. If they brought it back in tomorrow I wouldn’t be buying any.” – Prisoner at Mt Eden Corrections Facility.
Air pollution halved at Auckland Prison
A study undertaken at Auckland Prison showed that the smoking ban halved air pollution levels.
The aim of the research, by Dr Simon Thornley from the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland, was to determine whether the tobacco ban would improve the indoor air quality of a maximum-security prison. An air quality monitor was put in a staff base next to four 12-cell wings. It measured air pollution before the ban, during the first month of the ban in which tobacco sales were restricted, and for two months after the smoke-free policy was implemented.
The Ministry for the Environment says that a daily average of 25 micrograms of pollution per cubic metre of ‘ambient’ air is cause for concern. Initial average measurements at Auckland Prison were 6.58 micrograms. These declined to 5.17 during the tobacco purchase ban, and fell to 2.44 after the smoke-free policy took effect.
The full research results have been published in the Journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.
Will prisoners remain smoke-free on release?
Prison Nurse Kirstin Harrison, who is working towards her Masters of Nursing degree, researched how likely offenders were to maintain a smoke-free lifestyle on release.
Kirstin asked two questions;
- How likely are you to smoke a cigarette in the next 12 months?
- How likely are you to smoke a cigarette if a friend offered you one?
Kirsten says these questions have been identified internationally as predictors of susceptibility to smoking. Unfortunately, most respondents indicated they would smoke again if they had the opportunity although around half agreed with the smoking ban.
”My study shows that prisoners need support to remain smoke-free on release. This process needs to begin when prisoners are close to their release date,” says Kirstin.
Currently, prisoners being released are encouraged to apply the techniques and coping mechanisms they learned in prison when they are back in the community. They are encouraged to get further support from the Quit group and take up an additional course of Nicotine Replacement Therapy if they need it.
Changes to prisoners’ health
In another evaluation, Prison Nurse Stephanie Muir completed research for her Masters of Nursing degree. Stephanie’s thesis explored the changes in health perceptions of men in prison following the smoking ban.
Twelve prisoners were interviewed and completed a quality of life questionnaire in November 2011. Forty prisoners also completed two separate lung age tests between May and October 2011 to compare lung age before and after the smoking ban.
Stephanie says four main themes emerged from the interviews;
- an increase in exercise tolerance with improvements in general health
- an ability to taste food again
- an acknowledgement of stress
- the reasons behind beginning smoking.
Eighty percent of the prisoners who answered the lung age questions noted their lung ages had decreased and their physical health had improved.
Stephanie says it was interesting to note that men older than 35 did not improve as quickly as men under 35. “This tells us that the older you are, the longer it takes to see the benefits of quitting smoking.” Few prisoners had lung ages that were the same as their chronological age; most were significantly higher.
“While the smoking ban was not voluntary, many prisoners have enjoyed the improvement to their health. Assisting prisoners once they leave prison to remain smoke-free is a new challenge for community health,” says Stephanie.
And if the health benefits aren’t enough motivation to remain smoke-free on release, the Budget 2012 which will raise the price of a pack of 20 cigarettes to more than $20 by 2016, may be!