Since most incarcerated people struggle with drug and/or alcohol addiction, a significant number of prison inmates are smokers. Until recently, people in prison could still obtain tobacco products through kiosks. However, this situation has changed dramatically over the past few years.
I was incarcerated in Missouri for four years and during my time in prison they still allowed inmates to buy tobacco from the commissary and smoke it on the prison grounds. However, we only allow smoking outside, and getting caught smoking inside can easily get you into trouble.
Just a few months after my release in 2017, the state of Missouri took all tobacco products out of prisons in a lawsuit. A life sentence inmate is suing the state over the health risks associated with secondhand smoke. Prisoners violated the rules by smoking in their cells. This in turn led to lawsuits from prisoners.
That prisoner won his case, which led to all prisons in Missouri being tobacco-free. Missouri was actually one of the last states to ban smoking in its DOC facilities. Over the past three decades, all states have removed tobacco from prisons. The Bureau of Prisons also bans smoking in federal prisons.
Which leads to today’s blog post: Can you smoke in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- Can you buy cigarettes in prison?
- Is removing tobacco from prisons a good idea?
Can you buy cigarettes in prison?
At this point, the answer is no. You can’t buy cigarettes in prison. Few things are universal in prisons, but smoke removal is one of the few things all prisons in the United States have in common.
When I was incarcerated, inmates could buy pipes, rolling papers, filters and rollers from the canteen. However, this is no longer the case.
Smoking is now banned in all state and federal prisons, and any tobacco that enters the prison walls comes from officers who may have been smuggled by other deceitful means. Prisoners on work release may also be able to smuggle tobacco from outside.
The reason officers and prisoners risked bringing tobacco in was because it was big business. A “pinner” is a small rolled cigarette that can sell for as much as five bucks. We’re talking hundreds of dollars if you can get your hands on factory packaging.
Is removing tobacco from prisons a good idea?
Clearing prisons of tobacco products certainly makes sense from a health standpoint. However, the health of inmates has never been a top priority for correctional facilities. At the end of the day, allowing prisoners to smoke might actually be a good idea.
Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said prison smoking bans had unintended consequences.
First of all, this is an economics class. When cigarettes were banned, they could fetch $20 a stick and $200 a pack. This creates a significant profit opportunity for prison gangs and leads to the corruption of guards and prison employees.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any studies on the effects of prison smoking bans.
“There’s a real lack of research that’s done a serious look at these bans. Does it increase corruption and the black market? Does the tobacco ban make prison gangs rich? Is there more and more violence associated with it? We don’t have reliable data on any of these things The answer, I think not having any good information is a tragedy,” Nadelmann said.
There has to be an incentive for people to want to know, he added. Since one of the possible outcomes of the study could be that smoking bans increase contraband and corruption, most prisons would not participate in such studies.
Nadelmann said he could understand the various reasons why they didn’t want to come up with a report on how prisons were affected by the tobacco ban. But he also said, if you’re in charge of prisons, don’t you want to release a report that generates that kind of information?
Do you think prisoners should be allowed to smoke? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: 100 Percent Smoke-Free and Tobacco-Free Correctional Facilities The Case For Smoking In Prison