Prisoners should be allowed to smoke

Prisoners should be allowed to smoke

Prisoners should be allowed to smoke

Many people won’t have much sympathy for the Victorian prisoners who started a riot after being banned from smoking, and I can accept that sentiment up to a point. My sympathy for prisoners does not run deep and I have even less for rioters.

I believe people should be free to do what they like, but once they harm others, they need to be held to account and potentially locked up.

However, this is not about being sympathetic to prisoners – it’s about remembering what gaols are for. Corrections Victoria’s number one aim – and that of most correctional organisations – is to reduce re-offending. This is a commendable aim, because everyone deserves a second chance. Nobody wins when we lock someone up and throw away the key.

Rehabilitation means putting prisoners on a path towards not committing further crime. It does not mean training inmates to live according to somebody else’s values.

For prisoners, smoking has long been a small pleasure among the few that are permitted. Even Ned Kelly would have been allowed a smoke more than a century ago, on the sensible grounds that he would not be harming anyone else. The problem is, health bureaucrats have recently decided that prisoners, and people in mental health facilities, should be denied a smoke.

This signals to prisoners that rule-makers are less concerned about rehabilitation than telling them how to live. It blurs the line between living within the law, and living according to someone else’s standards. It will no doubt make some prisoners think that if following the rules means denying themselves things they enjoy, they may as well not follow any rules. This breeds resentment, and riots are a predictable manifestation of serious resentment.

And since prisoners can obtain all forms of illicit drugs inside, we can only wish the authorities luck when it comes to preventing tobacco smuggling, or worse, inmates making their own more dangerous alternatives. Prohibition has never worked, and criminalising things we don’t need to criminalise just creates more criminals.

Like all bullies, health mandarins are picking on prisoners and mental health patients because they see them as easy targets. But make no mistake the nanny-staters are coming for all of us. Outside prison gates, smokers are shoved into ever more isolated areas and forced to stand outside in the cold and rain. Some may not even smoke in their own apartments if a neighbour disapproves. Thousands of people have been bailed up at train and bus stops in NSW over the past few years and fined $300 for lighting up.

Ultimately, some people won’t be happy until the whole of society resembles a vast prison, where all of us are regulated ‘for our own good’.