The ACT government has committed itself to phasing out smoking in prisons, but continues to shy away from timelines for any ban.
In a week when Victoria had its worst ever prison riot coinciding with the start of a statewide smoking ban, an ACT prisoners' advocate said the political fight over a needle exchange in the Alexander Maconochie Centre had taken priority over long-considered moves to end smoking privileges.
ACT Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury said in the "long-term" the government was committed to phasing out smoking at adult corrections facilities, but there were a number of measures that would need to come first.
"We've sought legal advice and are considering legislation, but experiences in other states show that these changes shouldn't be rushed through," he said.
"Before moving ahead with a total ban, we would need to actively offer support to detainees through quit programs and nicotine replacement."
Prisoners' Aid ACT president Brian Turner said he doubted there was a clear majority view among prisoners about a ban, but a "cold turkey" cut-off would create big problems for government.
"I think they could put [a ban] in place, it's certainly a good plan to have, but it requires skilled management to implement," he said.
"There's been so much politics around the needle exchange, and I think that's occupied their mind."
There appears to have been little advancement since the ACT government said it was "progressing work to stop smoking at the AMC" last August.
Plans for a needle and syringe exchange program at the AMC were shelved in April after prison staff opposition.
About 300 inmates from Melbourne's Metropolitan Remand Centre rioted on Tuesday. They lit fires and looted in a 15-hour uprising which led to three staff and five prisoners being injured. A reported damage bill of $10 million was unconfirmed, the Victorian government said.
Community and Public Sector Union ACT regional secretary Vince McDevitt said the ACT government should look at experiences in other states and territories to avoid a repeat of the events in Victoria.
"We already have some big challenges in the prison system with overcrowding and stretched resources putting pressure on prison staff," he said.
"The government needs to make sure that the necessary resources and staffing are in place if they do indeed introduce a smoking ban."
Mr Rattenbury said the government would work closely with prison staff to ensure they were comfortable with any changes. An appropriate model for the ACT had yet to be decided.
Under current rules, all ACT adult corrections facilities provide designated areas for smoking. Mr Turner said most inmates smoked.
Victoria joined Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory with total bans on smoking in prisons. A ban in New South Wales is to begin on August 10, with South Australia to trial a ban at the Adelaide Remand Centre later this year. The West Australian government said on Wednesday that banning cigarettes in outdoor prison areas would make inmates too hard to control.
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