Many American prisons are banning smoking, which is adding to the tense atmosphere inmates face behind bars.
But officials say it’s the only way to prevent lawsuits from non-smoking inmates and guards, who say the smokey atmosphere is making them sick.
One New York facility has been phasing out smoking, in preparation for a complete ban beginning on Monday.
Inmates who live behind these bars will have to get along without their usual nicotine fix from smoking.
Some of them are worried that stress and friction will increase, causing fights or unrest.
But officials here at the Albany County jail in New York state say everyone’s health will benefit from the ban.
Assistant superintendent Thomas Wigger has been researching and planning how best to phase out smoking for several years. He says the inmates reacted well to the announcement of the ban.
“There were some minor rumblings, there were some cackle calls, you might say, but overall we didn’t have much resistance and we still have not to this date.”
SUPER CAPTION: Thomas Wigger, Assistant Superintendent, Albany County Correctional Facility
Some prisoners have tried, without success, to find legal grounds to overturn smoking bans at other American facilities.
“The constitution protects liberty but I am not aware that the courts have construed smoking tobacco in prison as part of liberty.”
SUPER CAPTION:John Boston, Legal Aid Society
Boston says state or local governments would have to pass specific legislation to create the right for prisoners to smoke.
Officials say about two-thirds of the 800 inmates at Albany are smokers. Although there’s been some grumbling, only one official complaint has been filed.
“It’s pretty hard, having to cut down to two packs over the past few weeks, it’s been real rough. But, I guess I’ll be quitting seeing if they are banning it.”
SUPER CAPTION: Richard Strack, inmate
“I think it’s a blessing, I mean in the short nine months that I smoked, I have suffered some ill effect from it already: shortness of breath, chronic cough and a little lethargy from the smoking. And it’s a blessing to me to be able to stop.”
SUPER CAPTION: Mark Phillips, inmate
“You get one hour a day rec. in the gym to relieve all this tension. We ain’t gettin it all off in the gym, when the smokin’ stops, we’re gonna be gettin it off on each other.”
SUPER CAPTION: Kenny Goss, inmate
The state of Vermont dropped its ban because it found it encouraged staff corruption and increased violence among inmates.
Wigger admits there could be similar problems at his jail.
“Staff members may be tempted to bring cigarettes to inmates. We’ve heard that once they’re banned in a facility, cigarettes may go for upwards of 75 dollars a pack. So our staff members may be tempted.”
SUPER CAPTION: Thomas Wigger, Assistant Superintendent, Albany county correctional facility
“There will be a black market, there’s a black market with everything, every place you go. Well, if somebody has got them I’m going to take them, just take them. ” (laughs)
SUPER CAPTION: Kenny Goss, inmate
With all tobacco products contraband from Monday, potato chips may replace cigarettes as the preferred currency among inmates.
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