My response to the recent email from my MP about UK prison smoking bans:
Thank you for your email of 26 October with its appended letter from the Ministry of Justice. However I am not reassured.
What disturbed me most about the appended letter was that it concentrated entirely upon matters of health, with no mention of any matters of justice.
For what is being done to Britain’s prisoners seems to me to be deeply unjust. They are being forced to stop smoking. They are being coerced. It is simply disingenuous of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice to have written that
all necessary healthcare support is available to help prisoners give up smoking
HMPPS fully appreciates how difficult quitting smoking can be for some prisoners
when stopping smoking is always going to be ‘difficult’ for prisoners who don’t want to stop smoking – in exactly the same way that parting with their wallets is always going to be ‘difficult’ for the victims of muggers or pickpockets. It’s something that they simply don’t want to do.
Furthermore what HMPPS is doing to Britain’s prisoners is no different from what led to many of those prisoners being sent to prison in the first place – using force or the threat of force to get their way. In what way can there be any hope of reforming any of these prisoners, if they are treated in the same inconsiderate and unjust way as they treated the victims of their crimes?
Aside from these considerations of elementary justice, I entirely fail to see that anyone’s health – prisoners or wardens – is going to see any improvement at all, given that, according to the Guardian of 26 October 2017:
Violence in prisons has increased to record levels, according to new figures released by the Ministry of Justice, with 27,193 incidents of assault and serious assault in the year to June 2017.
Over the same period, there were 41,103 incidents of self-harm, with a rise of 10% in April, May and June compared with the previous quarter…
There were 300 deaths in custody in the 12 months to September 2017. Of those 77 were self-inflicted
Given a UK prison population of 80,000 prisoners, it would seem that prisoners have a 34% chance of being assaulted, and a 51% chance of self-harm, and a 0.375% chance of dying while in prison. The likelihood of anyone being harmed by tobacco smoke must be something like 0.0001% or less. Shouldn’t HMPPS be concentrating on the growing and serious problem of prison violence instead of the utterly trivial problem of smoking in prisons – particularly since these smoking bans are already known to be a cause of some of this violence?
If the British government persists in this folly, I will expect to see our prisons explode, and do so quite predictably and justifiably.
Letters like this won’t change anything at all, of course. But they will exert a slight pressure.
The good thing about this letter is that my MP will make sure that the British government hears about it. Although this wasn’t enough for Joe L:
Frank, while I think it’s great that you currently have a responsive MP, I must ask if he provided any insight along with the forwarded letter from the MoJ, or if he gave you any guidance as to what you should do next, or better yet, what he could do to further help you?
Having a responsive representative is great (and sadly a rarity these days), however he’s not very much help if he simply acts as a courier, forwarding emails back and forth between you and other departments of government.
My view, at the moment, is that I’m just glad to have an MP who will pass on my concerns to the government. He’s actually doing his job! And in my experience, that’s a first. When I’ve written to other MPs, they’ve usually replied saying they didn’t agree (with me about whatever I was writing to them about).
Perhaps I might try asking him in some future email if he can provide any guidance or advice as to whom I might contact next, or where else I might inquire. I haven’t asked him anything like that so far.