THE Mount Gambier Prison is a much healthier environment since it transitioned to becoming a smoke-free facility late last year, according to senior management.
The Department for Correctional Services’ Smokefree Prisons Strategy is a major State Government initiative, which was introduced to prisons across South Australia on November 15.
It aimed to improve safety and health outcomes for staff, prisoners and visitors to the state’s prisons and bring them in line with other states in Australia and New Zealand.
Mount Gambier Prison general manager Michelle Price said intense planning was undertaken to ensure a smooth transition.
“We have implemented a G4S project management model based on prisons in the United Kingdom and as a result we have had no reported incidents in relation to going smoke-free,” Ms Price said.
“It has been a collaborative effort – we have had Cancer Council Australia and Quitline SA come in and speak to prisoners and there have been a number of forums held.
“Everyone has had a role to play.”
Tobacco reduction strategies were also implemented to support prisoners preparing to go smoke-free.
“Prisoners were required to contribute to the costs of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) which included patches and lozenges,” a departmental spokesperson said.
“The first six weeks of the NRT program was funded and prisoners were required to pay 25pc of the costs for the next three weeks, then 50pc of costs for the last three weeks.”
A department spokesperson revealed around 80pc of prisoners nationally identify as a current smoker – more than 60pc above the Australian community average.
“We have had a lot of positive feedback from prisoners who say they have never felt healthier since the change and said it had really helped them financially,” Ms Price said.
“Those prisoners can now save that money they spent on cigarettes and use it to help their families when they are released.”
While there has been a number of positive impacts in relation to the change, Ms Price said the improvement in health was the clear benefit.
“This transition has got everyone thinking about there health, we have seen prisoners engaging in more activities to improve their lifestyle,” she said.
“It is also a nicer environment at the prison, it is a cleaner space, so it really is a win-win all round,” Ms Price said.
Ms Price hoped the smoke-free environment and education the prisoners were provided with would help them implement positive change once released.
“Once prisoners are released, they have a freedom of choice, we cannot stop them from going and buying cigarettes,” she
“However, we would like to think that months or years of change would help overcome the addiction and we will certainly encourage our prisoners to remain smoke-free once they are released.”