Worry over prison smoking ban

Guards in Sweden's jails have expressed concern that a ban on smoking due to come into force on January 1st will lead to increased violence.

Prisoners can currently smoke in their cells, but a change in the rules means that they will be prevented from doing so from next year. In future they will only be allowed to smoke during their daily ‘walking hour’.

“The most important argument is the staff’s working environment, but also the fire risk. There is also research which shows that smoking promotes dependency on other drugs,” said Anne-Chatrine Älgevik, human resources expert at the Swedish Prison and Probation Service.

The ban has been preceded by the distribution of free nicotene medicine and anti-smoking programmes for both staff and prisoners.

Unions have long campaigned for restrictions on smoking and say they are basically positive to the new rules. But Roald Nilsson, representative for the Seko union, which represents prison warders, says it is hard to justify the strict banned planned by authorities.

“That was not our intention. Some people smoking, and we have to respect for that,” he said.

Union members are worried that there will be more violence in the workplace. Nilsson said that many prisoners are drug addicts, have mental problems or have difficulty controlling their impulses.

“If they suddenly notice that they can’t smoke, difficult situations could arise.”

Ricard AR Nilsson, prisoner at Kumla jail and chairman of prisoner organization Frio, said that smoking was prisoners’ way of controlling stress.

“This creates a tinderbox. The question is whether this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. They say this is all about the working environment, but we see it as a part of a tougher regime,” he said.

Gothenburg’s remand centre banned smoking in September, and according to prison inspector Fredrik Ullvan the ban has not created major problems.

“We have not had a rise in the number of incidents or threats against staff, and inmates don’t seem to feel worse. If someone feels very bad, we arrange for them to take a walk,” he said.