In today’s society, being a smoker doesn’t exactly earn you any popularity points. However, during my time in prison, I noticed that almost everyone, myself included, was a smoker. Fortunately, the prison where I was confined allowed smoking and sold tobacco products through their commissary.
Sadly, shortly after my release in 2017, all prisons in Missouri became smoke-free due to a lawsuit filed by a non-smoking inmate who was serving a life sentence without parole.
Given that many individuals who enter prison are smokers in the outside world, the question arises – is smoking permitted in prisons? This blog post aims to answer this question and cover the following topics:
- List of States Where You Can Smoke in Prison
- Can You Smoke In A Prison Cell?
- Can You Smoke in Federal Prison?
- Can You Vape In Prison?
List of States Where You Can Smoke in Prison
Over the past two decades, correctional facilities across the United States have transitioned into smoke-free environments, thanks to state laws or directives from governing bodies such as the Department of Corrections and Bureau of Prisons.
Currently, Arizona is the only state that has yet to implement a ban on tobacco use in its correctional facilities. This implies that forty-nine states, including Puerto Rico, have enforced the prohibition of smoking indoors, and some have extended it to the prison grounds.
However, as the saying goes, rules are made to be broken. Just because tobacco products like cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and e-cigarettes are no longer available for purchase through the prison commissary does not mean that inmates cannot access them.
Inmates have displayed exceptional creativity when it comes to procuring tobacco in prison. They have employed various methods, including bribing correctional officers, having friends or family members smuggle tobacco into a visit, or concealing tobacco products during inter-facility transfers.
While I won’t delve into the specifics of how tobacco is smuggled into prisons or where inmates hide them to avoid detection by staff, it is worth noting that inmates can be extremely resourceful in such situations.
The trend towards smoke-free facilities has been growing in prisons across the United States over the last few decades, with many states enacting laws or policies to make their correctional facilities completely tobacco-free. As of now, there are 21 states that have fully implemented these regulations, including:
Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.
In these states, tobacco use is prohibited both indoors and outdoors, and on all prison grounds. Despite these regulations, inmates have found ways to smuggle tobacco into facilities, through bribing officers or bringing in contraband themselves, leading to continued efforts to enforce these rules.
State correctional facilities that are 100% smoke-free indoors and outdoors on all grounds:
- Puerto Rico
State correctional facilities that are 100% smoke-free and tobacco-free indoors:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
State correctional facilities that are 100% smoke-free indoors:
- New Jersey
- New York
Can You Smoke In A Prison Cell?
Smoking in prisons has been banned for quite some time now, with every state prison in the US having outlawed smoking indoors. However, as with any rule, some inmates will still try to find ways around it.
It’s important to note that smoking bans in prisons extend not just to indoor areas but also to outdoor grounds. Some states have imposed stricter rules, with some even banning smoking on prison grounds entirely. In 2019, Arizona was the only state in the US that had yet to prohibit tobacco use in its prisons.
That being said, inmates are known to get creative when it comes to procuring tobacco products while in prison. Since tobacco is considered contraband, inmates who are caught with it can face severe consequences such as losing privileges to make phone calls, receive visits, access the library or recreational facilities, or even be put into solitary confinement (also known as the SHU, or segregated housing unit).
Despite the risks, inmates continue to smuggle tobacco products into prison. Some methods include bribing correctional officers, having friends or family members smuggle them in during visits, or even hiding them in personal belongings or during transfers between facilities.
For those who are caught smoking in their cells, the consequences can also be severe. One former inmate recounts receiving a punishment known as “ten days in white,” where all of their personal belongings were confiscated and they were required to wear a white prison uniform for ten days. During this time, they were not allowed to leave their room except to use the bathroom or go to the chow hall. They were unable to go to the library or recreational areas, and phone privileges were revoked. This punishment was intended to send a clear message to other inmates that smoking in cells was not tolerated.
Despite these strict measures, some inmates continue to smoke in their cells. The availability of tobacco products can be a valuable commodity in prison, and the risks of being caught are sometimes outweighed by the need to relax and feel some semblance of freedom, even if just for a few minutes.
Can You Smoke in Federal Prison?
In 2015, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) banned smoking in all federal correctional facilities, except as part of an inmate’s approved religious activity. However, BOP staff and visitors can still smoke in designated outdoor areas.
Like in state prisons, inmates in federal prisons have an underground tobacco trade. However, inmates typically purchase individual cigarettes, also known as pinners, rather than packs of cigarettes. Pinners are usually not factory-rolled cigarettes but are hand-rolled using a pouch of tobacco and a pack of papers. Inmates will use anything from book paper to the paper around a roll of toilet paper to roll the tobacco if rolling papers are not available.
Pinners are thinner than factory-rolled cigarettes but can sell for as much as $5, depending on the facility. In comparison, a pack of cigarettes can cost up to $200. This high profit margin explains why inmates and guards are willing to take the risk of smuggling tobacco into the prison.
However, lighting the cigarette poses another challenge, as the commissary does not sell lighters or matches. Inmates have to get creative, using methods such as using an electrical outlet or making a match with batteries and a strip of foil.
Due to the ban on smoking, tobacco products are considered contraband, and inmates caught with them may face punishment. The consequences can range from the loss of privileges such as phone and visiting privileges, to being sent to segregated housing units. Nonetheless, some inmates take the risk to find some relaxation in prison, where there are few opportunities to do so.
Can You Vape in Prison?
Smoking is a contentious issue in correctional facilities. The use of tobacco products has been banned in most prisons in the United States, including e-cigarettes and vapes. However, there are still some county jails that allow tobacco products, although they are few and far between. The same rules apply to e-cigarettes and vapes as traditional tobacco products.
Inmates can smuggle in vaping products just like they can with tobacco products. Although prohibited, they can still be accessed on the black market. Prohibition behind bars is similar to the prohibition in the free world; it does not eliminate the use of the product but rather puts it under the control of gangs. In the free world, cartels and organized crime syndicates take over the black market for prohibited products. In prison, gangs often control the tobacco trade, which can make smoking even more dangerous.
Despite the smoking ban, inmates can still get access to tobacco products if they have the money and are willing to take the risk. Interestingly, smoking bans in prisons could be related to an increase in violence and increase the chances of corruption among prison guards.
While the healthcare in prisons is extremely poor, a smoking ban in prison isn’t for health purposes. So, what is the benefit of banning tobacco use in prisons? Considering that the vast majority of inmates are smokers, wouldn’t legal tobacco use behind bars help keep the peace and reduce corruption?
This is a complex issue, and there are valid arguments on both sides. However, there are some potential benefits to banning smoking in prisons. For one, it could create a healthier environment for non-smoking inmates and prison staff who are affected by secondhand smoke. Additionally, it could save the state money on healthcare costs associated with smoking-related illnesses among inmates.
Ultimately, whether smoking should be banned in prisons is up for debate, and there are valid arguments on both sides.