25
Jul
2014

Corrections Amendment

Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — It is a pleasure to rise to speak in the debate on the Corrections Amendment (Smoke‑Free Prisons) Bill 2014. The bill amends the Corrections Act 1986 to permit regulations to be made for a total smoking ban across the Victorian prison system from July 2015. The bill also amends the Tobacco Act 1987 to remove the exemption from the offence of smoking in an enclosed workspace that currently applies in relation to prison cells and exercise yards.

The coalition government has already implemented a range of reforms in this area. In December 2013 a total smoking ban came into operation at the Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre. In March of this year all areas of railway stations and raised platform tram stops in Victoria were made smoke free. Since 2012 smoking has been prohibited on patrolled beaches. These reforms reflect the commitment of the government to providing safe and productive workplaces and safe and a clean public transport system, and most importantly to having effective health outcomes.

At the outset, I indicate that I have personal experience of the effects of smoking. My mother died predominantly from being a chain smoker throughout her life. In her last years she was diagnosed with emphysema, and she lived with that. As one of her primary carers, I supported her through that time. I know that on many occasions she would have given up smoking if she could have, but in her lifetime, certainly in her early years, the programs and support that are available today were not there. I am very proud that the coalition is working towards doing something for those in one of the most vulnerable sectors in our community — that is, those in the prison system.

The figures on smoking are very important. Every year 4000 Victorians lose their lives to smoking‑related illnesses, and smoking costs the state $2.4 billion annually. There is no getting away from it: smoking kills, it costs the state a huge amount of money and it affects not only those who smoke but also those around them, members of their family and friends, who are affected by the effects on the smokers and also by the effects of passive smoking.

On breaking down the available figures, you find that 85 per cent of the Victorian prison system’s population smokes compared to 14 per cent of the population in the general community — that is, five times more people in prison than people outside prison smoke. Therefore the situation in our prison system needs to be rectified.

I point to the great work that has been done over the years by Quit Victoria and VicHealth in seeking to reduce those figures. There has been a trending downwards in the number of those taking up smoking in the general community but the figures have not been reflected among those in our prison system. Quit Victoria has applauded the state government’s decision. In a statement, the Victoria policy manager, Kylie Lindorff, said:

We know that prisoners have extremely high smoking rates and prisons are often an initiation point for smoking. If you didn’t smoke before you entered prison, it’s highly likely you will afterwards.

That is a really important point to make — that people come into the prison without a smoking problem and they leave with another problem which that person and the community then have to deal with.

Smoke‑free prisons have been successfully implemented by jurisdictions in a range of places around the world. The bill continues that work and extends it. In the Northern Territory a total smoking ban was implemented in prisons on 1 July 2013; smoking will be banned in Queensland prisons from May this year; and in New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania announcements have been made that smoking in prisons will be banned in 2015. This is a policy that governments right around Australia are moving towards implementing, and it is commendable that the Victorian coalition government is doing so.

The bill has not been introduced without good research work having been done in this area. This is a not a quick, stopgap approach but has been carefully thought out and managed. There have been a number of reports on the issue of smoking commissioned by the Australian government and other jurisdictions. In 2012 the National Prisoner Health Data Collection reported on some of the work. It showed, as I said, that the figures for the intensity of smoking in prisons do not reflect those for the general society. The figures showed that it is certainly more of a problem in prisons. The research found that 67 per cent of prison entrants who smoked were unemployed and unable to work at the time of entry and 36 per cent had not completed year 10 or above. It found that 75 per cent of entrants who smoked had used illicit drugs in the 12 months before entering prison, compared with less than one‑third, or 29 per cent, of those who had never smoked.

As part of all this, research was undertaken into the likelihood of those in prison wanting to quit smoking. Almost half, or 46 per cent, of prison entrants who were then current smokers expressed a desire to quit. They wanted to stop smoking, but they found that successful attempts were difficult. Quitting smoking in prisons may be more difficult than in the general community because people in prisons are in an environment where they are surrounded by smokers. The research found that 35 per cent of dischargees from the prison system tried to quit while in prison. Only 8 per cent successfully quit smoking while in prison, which meant that 27 per cent of dischargees attempted to quit but were unsuccessful. The numbers are there to suggest that people wanted to give up smoking and they tried to give up but they could not give up because they were in an environment that did not encourage that.

The government is providing an environment that will ensure that people can have a good go at giving up this terrible habit. We are not suggesting prisoners go cold turkey, we are providing a range of programs to ensure that prisoners get the help they need to wean themselves off this terrible problem.

In the time remaining to me to speak in this debate I would like to speak about the issue of second‑hand smoke, which is a significant issue in our population and in our prisons. Many areas in our prisons are confined spaces and we are currently asking prison officers working in those places to put up with second‑hand smoke. With this bill we are providing a safe environment for prison staff to work in, which is very important and something we should be doing as a government in a public system to ensure that we are looking after the workers in our prisons. This is a good policy and it sends an important message.

There is currently an increase in the use of drugs — I am currently involved in an inquiry being undertaken by the Law Reform, Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee into the drug ice, and the committee has seen horrific presentations about that drug — so a lot of work is being done within our prison system to ensure that we tackle the drug problem, and there is research to suggest an alignment between smoking and moving on to drug taking.

The bill helps reduce the contraband element by taking cigarettes out of the prison system, and most importantly it reflects community sentiment. It is what we are doing in the wider society and we want to ensure that the prison system reflects the wider society, so that when people come out of prison they are able to reintegrate and hopefully have a second crack at their lives once they have finished their sentences. I commend the bill to the house.

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