Tobacco costs twice as much as Spice

erlestokePrisoners can buy the drug known as Spice at half the cost of illicit tobacco behind bars, an inspection report reveals.

Inmates at one jail described how the availability of drugs, coupled with a recently imposed smoking ban, had helped fuel a sense of “hopelessness”.

Spice – a synthetic substance that mimics the effects of cannabis – has been identified as a factor behind the surging levels of self-harm and violence that has gripped much of the prisons estate.

An assessment from HM Inspectorate of Prisons details the drug’s impact at HMPErlestoke, a category C training jail holding around 500 men in Wiltshire.

The report says: “Many prisoners we spoke to said that the availability of drugs, coupled with the recent smoking ban, had contributed to a widespread sense of hopelessness, and that it was difficult to maintain recovery in an atmosphere where so many other prisoners were regularly under the influence of Spice.

“Prisoners also told us that the price of Spice was around half of that for illicit tobacco, which encouraged more Spice use than we have seen in similar prisons recently.

“There were frequent medical emergencies, some very serious, resulting from Spice use, partly due to prisoners smoking Spice without diluting it with tobacco, as is common practice elsewhere.”

A ban on smoking in jails has been phased in since the beginning of last year. Figures released earlier this month showed that 66 establishments in England and Wales are now smoke-free.

Inspectors visited HMP Erlestoke in June and July and found there was “clear evidence” of the widespread use of alcohol and drugs.

Prisoner self-harming had doubled since the last inspection in 2013, and the number of reported violent incidents had gone up.

The watchdog also said it was concerned to find prisoners in a cell with a “significant hole” in the exterior wall.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said: “Safety in the prison was not good enough.

“Much of the violence and bullying that did exist was, in our view, linked to a significant drug problem, and yet the prison lacked an effective drug strategy.”

He added: “Overall, and despite our criticisms, we do report on much that was positive in the prison. The management team was relatively new and evidenced an enthusiasm to make improvements.

“There was a sense that with a little more organisation and consistency, and with a determination to ensure policies and rules are complied with, the prison could become much better quite quickly.”

Michael Spurr, chief executive of HM Prison & Probation Service, said: “As the chief inspector points out there is much positive work being done by staff at Erlestoke.

“The supply and use of illicit psychoactive drugs has undermined safety in the prison.

“The governor is working with partners including the police and treatment agencies to address this issue as a priority.

“We will use the recommendations in this report to improve performance at Erlestoke over the coming months.”

Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook said: “I am not surprised by this at all, in fact I am only surprised that others are surprised by it.

“The roll out of the smoking ban is well-intended, the disastrous health effects of smoking are incontrovertible, but it cannot be done in a vacuum – and the Ministry of Justice have been warned and warned about this.

“Now they have simply created another illegal currency in our prisons – get the message: creating new laws on trafficking in our prisons, backed by criminal sanctions are completely impotent when you are threatening to send people to prison who are actually already there.”

Prisoner takes smoking case to the Supreme Court

smoking in prison

Extra. Personal View: Mark Leech

A prisoner with health problems is taking his battle to make smoking in jails a crime to the UK’s highest court.

The move by Paul Black, an inmate at HMP Wymott in Lancashire, follows his defeat at the Court of Appeal last year.

He originally won a High Court declaration in 2015 that the legal ban on smoking in public places under the 2006 Health Act must also be applied to state prisons and other Crown premises in England and Wales.

But Court of Appeal judges later allowed a Government challenge against that decision.

The judges said the Crown was not bound by the Act and the ban, which came into force in July 2007, did not apply in public sector prisons.

A panel of five Supreme Court justices, headed by president Lady Hale, will hear the latest round of the litigation on Tuesday.

The issue they are being asked to decide is whether the Crown is bound by the Health Act “by necessary implication”.

Black, a sex offender serving an indeterminate sentence since 2009, launched legal action complaining that prison smoking rules were being flouted and should be legally enforceable.

The Health Act places restrictions on smoking in public places and workplaces, making it a criminal offence to smoke in an unauthorised place and also an offence for those in charge of the premises to turn a blind eye to the smoking.

Black argues he and other prisoners should have confidential and anonymous access to the NHS Smoke-Free Compliance line which enables members of the public to report breaches of the law to the local authority.

The Justice Secretary has refused his request, contending it would serve no purpose since the Act does not bind the Crown, which administers the prison.

Government lawyers had warned the appeal court that a ”particularly vigorous” ban in state prisons could cause discipline problems and risk the safety of staff and inmates.

A Prison Service spokesman said after the appeal court’s ruling that it meant smoke-free prisons could be rolled out in a “safe and secure way”, ensuring that staff and prisoners “are no longer exposed to second-hand smoke, while not compromising the safety and security of our prisons”.

When given the go-ahead to take his case to the Supreme Court, Black said in a statement: “I simply wish non-smoking prisoners and prison staff to have the same level of protection from the risks of second-hand cigarette smoke as non-smokers living in the wider community.”

His lawyer Sean Humber, head of human rights at law firm Leigh Day said: “In this case, the issue is whether the restrictions on smoking indoors introduced by the Health Act 2006 apply to over a thousand Government owned and operated premises, including prisons, throughout the country.

“Our client simply believes that those living, working and visiting these premises should have the same protections from the health risks posed by passive smoking as everyone else.”

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “We have long been committed to a smoke-freeprison estate and this is being phased in over a long period of time.

“This phased introduction will reduce the risk to staff and prisoners of exposure to second hand smoke and prisons will only become smoke-free when it is appropriate to do so.”

Prisoner wins landmark ruling on prison smoking.


A prisoner has won a landmark ruling that the ban on smoking in public places applies to state prisons and all Crown premises.

A High Court judge made the ruling despite fears that rigorously imposing the ban could lead to unrest in the jails of England and Wales.

The judge rejected Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s argument that the 2006 Health Act, which makes smoking a criminal offence in enclosed public places and workplaces, does not “bind the Crown” and does not apply in state prisons.

Mr Justice Singh, sitting in London, declared: “In my judgment it is clear from the terms of the 2006 Act…that the intention of Parliament was indeed that it should apply to all public places and workplaces which fell within its scope, including those for which the Crown is responsible.”

Because of the wide-ranging importance of the case, the judge postponed his ruling taking effect to give the Justice Secretary time to appeal to the Court of Appeal.

Giving permission to appeal, the judge acknowledged concerns in the Prison Service over the impact of his decision on “prisoners who feel the need to smoke and may be resistant to the criminalising of that conduct in places where in my view the Health Act does apply”.

His decision was a victory for Paul Black, an inmate at HMP Wymott in Lancashire, who says he suffers from a range of health problems made worse by second-hand smoke.

Smoking ban in prison – legal challenge


A legal battle is being fought by an inmate in Lancashire to give prisoners the right to report unauthorised smoking in jail – including by prison staff – via a confidential health hotline.

Paul Black, an inmate at HMP Wymott suffering from a range of health problems made worse by second-hand smoke, is seeking a judicial review.

He says both staff and prisoners in his prison are guilty of illicit lighting up and not enough is being done to stop them.

He is challenging at London’s High Court a decision of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling backing the prison governor’s decision not to allow prisoners general access to the NHS freephone smoke-free compliance line.

Confidentiality is necessary to avoid reprisals from fellow prisoners who might feel the line is being used to “grass them up”, a judge was told.

Although he now personally has the right to access the line, Black argues that still leaves him vulnerable to being singled out and targeted, and access must be made available to all inmates.

The compliance line enables members of the public to seek enforcement of provisions of the Health Act 2006 which ban smoking in enclosed public places.

Lawyers for the Justice Secretary argue Crown Immunity prevents the Health Act provisions applying to state prisons.

They maintain prison rules and regulations, especially the sanction of withdrawal of privileges, are sufficient to deal with incidents of unauthorised smoking.

Black, who has been at Wymott since 2009 and is serving an indeterminate sentence, is seeking judicial review and accusing the Justice Secretary of breaching his own rules, as well as human rights laws.

Shaheen Rahman, representing Black, told the High Court it was accepted on all sides that about 80% of prisoners smoke.

Black complained of being frequently exposed to second-hand smoke in areas of the prison where smoking was prohibited, in particular on landings, in laundry rooms and in healthcare waiting rooms.

Ms Rahman told Mr Justice Singh it was Black’s case, corroborated by three other prisoners, that prison staff “appeared to turn a blind eye” and failed to enforce the ban on smoking outside designated rooms.

She submitted: “Having regard to the scientific evidence of the dangers of smoking, the claimant’s own health concerns inevitably make him more vulnerable to disease and he should not be exposed to second-hand smoke.”

It was not until Black launched judicial review proceedings that the prison agreed to personally give him access to the compliance line, but that fell short of his request that “all prisoners” should have access, said Ms Rahman.

Although he could personally make calls these might be subject to routine monitoring and lack confidentiality.

Ms Rahman said staff could be among those reported for unauthorised smoking, and the prison officer who had told him he was getting access to the line had referred to it as “the grass line”.

Asking the court to dismiss the case, Jonathan Hall QC argued that when it came to state prisons the Crown was not bound by the Health Act, or its criminal sanctions for smoking in restricted areas.

He submitted refusing global access to the confidentiality line did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights or conflict with prison rules.

Prisoners were already allowed confidential access to certain lines, including the Samaritans, but there was a risk that allowing access to more could lead to possible abuse.

Mr Hall argued: “The line has to be drawn somewhere in the interests of security and good order.”

The judge said the case raised important issues and he would give his decision as soon as possible.

Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national prisons newspaper said the Government was in a mess over its no smoking policy.

Mr Leech said: “Personally I don’t smoke but the government is in a mess over its no smoking prisons policy and this case brings that mess into sharp focus.

“They have said for five years they will ban smoking in prison, but for reasons I fully understand they have failed to implement it.

“They either need to get on and ban all smoking in all parts of a prison, dealing with the undoubted dangers in terms of control that policy implementation will bring with it, or do much more to enforce the ban on smoking in communal areas by staff and prisoners which is at the root of this case – what they can’t do is continue to do nothing.”