A ruling banning smoking in some state prisons in England and Wales has been overturned by the court of appeal.
In their judgment, handed down on Tuesday, three judges unanimously agreed to uphold a government challenge against a high court ruling that banned smoking on crown premises.
At present, prisoners in state jails can smoke in their cells and in communal exercise yards.
Paul Black, a prisoner at HMP Wymott in Lancashire, brought the original case for quicker implementation of the ban.
He argued state jails should have never been exempted from the ban on smoking in public places and as a result were flouting the 2006 Public Health Act, effective from July 2007.
But government lawyers warned a “particularly vigorous” ban on smoking could provoke discipline problems, risking the safety of staff and prisoners.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, which campaigns for prisoners’ rights, criticised the government’s decision to appeal against the ban.
“It is extraordinary that the government is so afraid of disorder in prison,” she told BuzzFeed News, “that they cannot afford to care properly for prisoners and staff.”
She continued: “People should be encouraged to give up smoking, but it is important that they have a wide range of resources to give up smoking.”
The “appalling” state of prisons across the county, Crook added, meant programmes to encourage prisoners to quit did not exist.
A prison service spokesperson said the court’s decision would not affect government policy to eventually roll out a full smoking ban in all 136 prisons.
“Our careful approach will ensure staff and prisoners are no longer exposed to second-hand smoke, while not compromising the safety and security of our prisons," the spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in a statement.
The ban was introduced in Welsh prisons in January. Other prisons in the southwest – Exeter, Channings Wood, Dartmoor, and Erlestoke – were scheduled to enforce the ban this month.
The ruling does not affect private prisons, contracted out by the Ministry of Defence, which also have a ban.
Smoking rates in prisons are higher than the general population, ASH, an anti-smoking charity, found last year. Studies conducted between 2005 and 2010 found as many as 80% of prisoners – both male and female – smoked.
Rose Troup Buchanan is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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