Northward tackles smoking challenge

Deadline for tobacco ban pushed back

Her Majesty’s Prison system in the Cayman Islands operates the only public buildings left in the territory that are not compliant with current legislation banning smoking in and around government properties.  

However, a deadline set for the cessation of smoking within the prison walls has proven a difficult challenge and officials confirmed last week that they would not meet the January date.  

The prison service has made major strides in cutting down on smoking. It has banned the sale of cigarettes, loose tobacco and cigarette rolling papers inside the prison store. It has also banned visitors to the prison system from bringing in rolling papers and loose tobacco.  

However, it has not banned family members and friends handing over cigarette packs to prisoners and, according to prison officials, some 80 percent of inmates are lighting up each day.  

“There are some prisoners that come here as non-smokers and leave as a smoker,” said Dr. Sook Yin, the medical director of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society. “That’s not good.”  

Aside from the obvious health concerns associated with smoking, prison system deputy director Aduke Joseph-Caesar said poor health can be one of the factors tied to released prisoners reoffending. However, she said prison officers didn’t necessarily have the proper training to help encourage prisoners to quit.  

So, over two days last week, prison officers – as well as a few prisoners – received some advice on how to do that from Dr. Elbert Glover, the University of Maryland’s internationally recognized expert on smoking cessation and smokeless tobacco.  

“We want to make sure that officers get involved with prisoners in managing their cigarettes,” Mrs. Joseph-Caesar said.  

“They get a lot of information about nicotine addiction, how it affects people. For example, an inmate comes to an officer and says, ‘Oh gosh, I don’t have no cigarettes’ … and they’re getting stressed out. If you can keep him engaged for three minutes, the urge goes in three minutes.”  

Mr. Glover told a training class of about 40 people Thursday that the prison officers faced an “unusual challenge” in attempting to ban smoking anywhere in a prison environment.  

“There’s a tremendous amount of boredom here,” Mr. Glover said. “I’ve spoken with a prisoner who said, ‘If they take our cigarettes away, we’re going to burn this place down.’”  

However, Mr. Glover told members of the training class that the Cayman Islands prison system had made some positive changes toward giving inmates meaningful work to do during the course of the day.  

Prisons Director Neil Lavis had instituted a new policy requiring inmates at Northward prison to either spend their time productively, or spend it behind bars. Essentially, prisoners are not allowed to hang around outside their cells during the day. 

Mrs. Joseph-Caesar said the policy sets specific day-time work hours for inmates, between 8 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. and again between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. A variety of job training, literacy and education courses and physical exercise options are available for prisoners as part of an extensive sentence management program at Northward.  

“I really like the idea that you’re providing an alternative here,” Mr. Glover said.  

Statistically, Mr. Glover said, it remains difficult to quit smoking. According to data, about 90 percent of the 52 million smokers in the U.S. say they want to quit. However, less than one in three are successful in doing so.  

“If the person doesn’t want to quit smoking, they won’t,” Mr. Glover said.