Justice groups fear nicotine-addicted inmates could turn to more serious drugs as a state-wide smoking ban in NSW prisons reaches its second week.
The ban, designed to improve inmate health, came into effect on August 10 following bans in the Northern Territory and Queensland.
However implementation of a similar ban in Victoria this July resulted in the worst prison riots in the state’s history and an independent inquiry is underway headed by former deputy police commissioner Kieran Walshe.
While a riot squad was on hand for the NSW roll-out, there had been no serious incidents.
The Metropolitan Remand Centre in Melbourne during a riot. Image courtesy Channel 7 and ABC
Prisoner advocate Justice Action coordinator Brett Collins said the ban could lead prisoners to harder drugs, which were more compact for their impact and had a longer, successful track record of being smuggled in.
“People who are used to modifying their mood with cigarettes will be looking for something else and heroin is readily available -- it’s easy to smuggle in,” the former inmate said.
“When you’ve got people who have nothing to do all day and they need something to cope with the truly horrible surroundings, they’ll turn to whatever they can get.
“We’ll see more inmates taking heroin.”
RMIT University criminologist Michael Benes said the heroin risk for quitting prisoners was real.
“Everything is possible in prison," Benes said.
“Heroin and other drugs are readily available, despite all the efforts over decades to have them removed.
“It’s certainly possible people who could not smoke would then take heroin but I think someone who is a prison regular for a long time would have already made a decision to [use heroin or not].”
NSW Corrections Minister David Elliott rejected the link between cigarettes and heroin.
"It is misleading to suggest that anyone who stops smoking will turn to heroin," Elliott said.
"Inmates and staff have been offered up to eight weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy patches to assist with cravings."
Benes said cigarettes would not be easy to smuggle into prisons.
“They’re bulky and if you wanted to store a number of them, it would be quite difficult,” Benes said.
“Heroin, on the other hand, only takes a smaller portion so it can be hidden in all sorts of places.”
Benes said the intention to improve prisoner health was commendable.
“I am a reformed smoker, and a no-smoking policy will enhance inmate health for the smokers but also the non-smokers,” Benes said.
A statewide amnesty is in place on all tobacco-related products until August 23 and anyone caught during this time will receive a warning.