From July 1 inmates will no longer be allowed to smoke, and prison guards will also be encouraged to give up.
Bevan Hanlon from the Corrections Association told TV ONE’s Close Up staff need to be ready to deal with inmates who are struggling with the change.
“We’re asking that our riot teams are on standby and ready to go,” he said.
“We want to see a visual deterrent – staff in protective equipment, that are additional to regular staff, on or around the time this is implemented so the prisoners know if they play up we’re going to do what we need to do to keep control of the prisons.”
Prisoners themselves are also predicting problems.
Joseph Fitzsimmons is a regular smoker serving time in Rimutaka Prison. He said it is going to be hard to give up and he thinks frustrations will be aimed at prison staff.
“It’ll be a challenge, it won’t be happy families I can tell you that…There’s going to be trouble, we’ll be moving our anger to the staff because we know they’re not going to help us.”
Fellow inmate Todd Martelley agreed, “the prison officers are going to get hassles from other inmates.”
Prisoners will be offered nicotine patches and lozenges to try to deal with their cravings, and staff have been trained to spot signs of withdrawal.
Hanlon said this may not be enough to deal with the problem, and riots had broken out in the same circumstances in Australia.
“This is a situation that is beyond the normal, our members are telling us they’ve got concerns, what we’re saying is we also need a visual aid for prisons so they’re prepared if things go wrong.”
But the Chief Executive of the Corrections Department, Ray Smith, told Close Up he was happy with the preparations that had already been made.
“We’re always ready to deal with difficult and dangerous situations, we know prisoners well, we live in the environment with them,” he said.
“Our greatest tool is how officers talk to people and engage with them.”
He said 4,000 prisoners are currently receiving nicotine replacement therapy and staff will be encouraged to also use the treatment. Prior to the announcement of the ban in July last year around 5600 inmates – 67% of the prison population – smoked.
Smoking bans are in force at prisons in the US, Canada and Australia. In Canada prisoners have been unable to smoke in their cells since 2007 following pressure by the prison officers’ union.