South Australian taxpayers to foot the bill for $2m in prison nicotine patches and lozenges
Updated March 20, 2019 06:44:46
Taxpayers will pay more than $2 million for nicotine substitutes for South Australian prisoners over the next four years, as the state moves to make its jails smoke-free.
- Around 80 per cent of South Australia’s 2,800 inmates smoke
- SA is one of the last states to ban smoking in prisons
- A 12-week nicotine patch and lozenge program will cost $2 million
The nicotine patches and lozenges form part of the $6.2 million cost to taxpayers of keeping cigarettes out of the state’s prisons in the years to 2022, with additional funding set aside for health and security measures, staff costs and quit support.
The smoking ban has received bipartisan support, with strong backing from Cancer Council SA and the Public Service Association, the union representing the state’s prison guards.
Since July, the Department for Correctional Services has spent $48,952 in providing patches and lozenges to newly-incarcerated prisoners in the Adelaide Remand Centre.
Despite being smoke-free since 2016, the remand centre continues to have ongoing demand for nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) as new prisoners enter the jail system.
The cost of NRT over the coming four years follows the nearly $500,000 spent by SA Health’s prisoner health service on nicotine patches and lozenges since 2014.
Under the current structure, SA Health pays for NRT in prisons that have not enacted a smoking ban and will hand over this cost to the Department for Correctional Services when the ban is introduced at the end of the year.
Prison’s 12-week program
Under the rules to be introduced as prisons become smoke-free, taxpayers will foot the bill for the first six weeks of a nicotine replacement program, with prisoners required to pay one quarter of the cost for the next three weeks, and 50 per cent of the cost for the final three weeks.
The department estimated 80 per cent of South Australia’s 2,800 prisoner population were smokers, with 75 per cent smoking daily.
Under the current smoking rules, prisoners can buy their own cigarettes and tobacco from the canteen.
Public Service Association SA general secretary Nev Kitchin said the union had been campaigning for several years to have prisons smoke-free.
“We believe the department has probably been in breach of work health and safety regulations,” Mr Kitchin said.
“No-one should be required to work in an environment with smoke in it.
“We are looking for the bans to be introduced in a structured way.”
Cancer Council SA spokeswoman Alana Sparrow said the Government had worked with stakeholders to develop a “good evidence-based approach”, learning from the experiences interstate.
“We have looked at evaluations in different states and territories — in some it has worked extremely well but we are also learning from the experiences in other states like Victoria,” Ms Sparrow said.
She said Cancer Council SA was providing support for prisoners through Quitline, and was also training staff and leaders in the prison population.
Substitute ‘teabacco’ and riots interstate
Smoking has already been banned in prisons in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland.
However, the smoking ban has not been without its challenges, with prisoners discovered to be making their own substitute cigarettes, while in 2015 up to 300 prisoners in Melbourne’s Metropolitan Remand Centre rioted for 15 hours in protest.
During the violent Melbourne unrest, hundreds of staff were evacuated as prisoners bashed in doors and windows, and lit fires.
In Hobart, there was another riot following the decision by the Tasmanian Government to phase out nicotine patches.
A South Australian Department for Correctional Services spokeswoman said adequate funding for the smoking ban was “critically important for a number of reasons, most importantly public and staff protection”.
“It’s vital that the department provides adequate support to staff and prisoners, as prison is a high-risk environment, where approximately 80 per cent of prisoners identify as a current smoker, and underlying mental health and substance abuse issues are common,” she said.
“The department’s priorities are always community safety and the safety of its staff.”
Corrections Minister Corey Wingard said the department was working diligently to meet the target of having the smoking ban rolled out by 2020.
“Prison staff have asked for this as much as anyone,” he said.
“This is a health commitment that we have made, the previous government was supportive of this and we will be delivering on that commitment.”
After smoking was banned in NSW jails, prisoners were found to be making “teabacco” by brewing their nicotine patches into tea leaves and then smoking them using pages from the Bible.
A 2018 study of former prisoners in Queensland found 94 per cent relapsed to smoking within two months of their release, with 72 per cent doing so on the day of their release.
First posted March 20, 2019 06:15:39