The Department needs to lead and not be led

The Department of Justice has not been proactive in leading smoking policy reforms. Key reforms were triggered by staff making formal complaints about the extent of second-hand smoke they were exposed to. Since 2015, there have been no further reforms and the Department has not undertaken any policy evaluations or monitoring of key smoking indicators. The Department has no clear plan to better understand the risks associated with the continuation of smoking within custodial facilities and how to most effectively manage these.

Exposure to smoke remains unmitigated

Despite smoking being restricted to designated outdoor areas, smoking inside cells and units is considered a common occurrence. Most staff and prisoners feel exposed to second-hand smoke daily, and staff told us they feel unsupported by various levels of management when seeking to enforce restrictions. Efforts to assist people in custody to quit or reduce their smoking behaviour are localised and do not appear to be working across the system. Cessation supports available to prisoners are perceived as unhelpful, and in some instances, have been inaccessible. There are also limited education opportunities provided to people in custody and staff to enable more informed decision-making about their smoking behaviour.

Smoking creates unique risks in prisons

Smoking inside prisons creates a range of risks for both the prisoners and custodial facilities. As the price of tobacco continues to rise, many prisoners are unable to afford the cost without becoming indebted to other prisoners or relying on private cash contributions from outside family and friends. The expense of tobacco can also lead to humbugging and harassment from some prisoners, and bullying and stand overs by others. Gambling and trading debts can also lead to violence and aggression. The provision of cigarette lighters also greatly increases the risk of cell fires and other arson incidents.

Developing a case for a ban

With Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory the only remaining Australian jurisdictions to allow smoking in custodial facilities, there is ample evidence to support the case for a smoking ban. This includes mitigating the risk of legal challenges by staff and non-smoking prisoners impacted by second-hand smoke, and the health and safety benefits associated with smoke-free prisons. Other jurisdictions have also demonstrated that a transition to smoke-free prisons is possible with little disruption if it is planned well, with a lengthy lead-in time and implemented in consultation with prisoners and staff.

Existing practices to reduce the risks associated with smoking inside Western Australian prisons are simply not working. Local Orders are not effective at restricting smoking to designated outdoor areas and are not proactively enforced by staff and management. Voluntary quitting in prison is also simply too difficult for prisoners. The cost of tobacco will also likely continue to rise, further increasing the risks of financial and physical harm to prisoners.

Page last updated: November 24, 2021
Smoking in Western Australian prisons