Can You Smoke in a Prison?

Can You Smoke in a Prison?

We can’t pretend this is the eighties anymore, when cigarettes were the in thing, getting placement from everything, including your favorite movies.

Currently, being seen smoking a cigarette will harm your social rapport. There was a time when you could smoke cigarettes anywhere you wanted; nowadays, it will cause you problems with the authorities.

This, however, is not the case within prison facilities.

In prison, cigarettes are a marketable commodity, going anywhere between $25 and $35 for a stick of cigarette. Just about everyone in prison is a smoker; you can blame it on the monotony of prison life or the idleness involved, where a cigarette represents something to break that monotony, being that it is the easiest drug to get within the prison.

With all the negative light shed on cigarette smoking, plus the major diseases attributed to it, such as cancer and emphysema, the question here is whether smoking is allowed within prison walls?

This article will answer this question, and more, taking you through inmates and cigarette smoking within prisons. We will look at cigarettes and all forms of tobacco use, including e-cigarettes and tobacco in its raw form.

History of Cigarette smoking Within Prison

The United States started radical drug control measures during the ’70s and ’80s, under the ‘war on drugs’ and ‘tough on crime’ policies that changed the political, social, economic, and criminal justice systems in America. Before this, prisoners were given cigarettes as part of their rations while incarcerated and would even buy them at will from the prison commissary.

Tobacco is an integral part of the American prison culture, where it served as a stress reliever, a prison currency, and a means of socialization. However, since the American government’s radical stance on drugs, cigarettes became an issue, which resulted in the 2004 ban of indoor smoking in all federal prisons.

By 2007, most prisons on all government levels had banned smoking, with some opting for selective bans while others imposing a total ban on smoking within the facilities.

As of 2019, most secure facilities had placed a ban on smoking apart from a few across the U.S.

Why is Smoking so Prevalent in Prisons

We can attribute boredom and idleness to a hunkering for cigarettes while in prison, but it goes deeper than that. People who have been incarcerated also tend to have problems with substance abuse. Apart from substances, you also find inmates have psychiatric illnesses and traumatic pasts, which increase their susceptibility to smoking and nicotine addiction.

Are There any Proponents for Smoking in Prison?

The negative attitudes towards cigarettes, in general, translated to a ban on cigarettes in prison facilities too. The ban may have been attributed to health reasons; however, most facilities saw it as a way of punishing inmates.

Some people and entities fight for the rights of inmates to smoke cigarettes.

Most of these people propose that inmates should be allowed to smoke subject to some restrictions to avoid intervening on other inmate rights. This means that they should be given a smoking area where they can freely indulge.

Prison officials tend to be the strongest opposers of smoking bans. The main argument they bring out is that banning of smoking might cause a revolt in prison. This, however, has never had sufficient proof to convince officials to consider allowing inmates to smoke.

The other main reason prison officials put forwards, which makes more sense, is the rise of gang-controlled black markets that will take over the sale and business of cigarettes within prison facilities.

It is true, after the ban of cigarettes in prisons, inmates still smoked. Who took over the supply and demand for cigarettes?

Let’s take a look!

The Cigarette Black Market within Prison Facilities

The ban on cigarettes was a government deterrent and enabled it to control cigarettes’ legal sale within prisons. However, once cigarettes became illegal in most jails, what happened was that a new entrepreneur in the name of prison gangs came up, who took over the sale and supply of cigarettes.

Cigarettes have long been used as a currency within most prisons, representing a whole economic system that sees the exchange of goods and services within prisons paid by cigarettes. Based on their durability, supply, demand, and portability, they were considered the ideal currency.

You would be surprised at the informal; economic system in prisons that involves cigarettes. Inmates can have their clothes washed for a certain number of cigarettes, while a pack will get you a tattoo. Inmates who have no money in their commissary can use cigarettes to get essential services in prisons by selling them or exchanging them for services.

The huge markup on cigarettes makes them a valuable commodity, with a pack going for over $100, while one cigarette can go for as high as $25.

You may wonder, with all the security in prisons and armed guards plus random searches to ensure prisoners have no contraband, how does the business thrive?

Can You Buy a Cigarette in a County Jail?

Prison gangs will bring in cigarettes from outside the facility in one way or another. One of the main ways they do this is through the prison officials themselves. Due to the huge business, that is cigarettes, many people get paid off the business and are lucrative enough to have prison guards supply the product.

Prison gangs will also use their own people to smuggle the product in. This comes in various ways through friends and loved ones who come carrying it during their visits. They also have ways to hide the contraband within packages sent into the county jail.

New inmates coming in to serve their sentences are another way to get cigarettes into prisons. Prison gangs will get information as to gang members or acquaintances coming into the prison. They will arrange for the incoming felons to smuggle the cigarettes into the prison at a price.

The ingenuity and creative ways inmates will sneak contraband into various prisons are always amazing, and inmates have to come with new ways to smuggle the product as prison authorities will always be on the lookout.

Prisons that Allow Smoking

Not all prison facilities have banned smoking in prison; however, many have taken steps to ensure that inmates who smoke do not affect non-smokers through passive smoke. Nearly all facilities have banned smoking indoors, including; Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin. However, outdoor smoking is still allowed in these facilities.

States like West Virginia have state laws that prohibit inmates from accessing cigarettes and tobacco products. The regional jail and correctional facilities in West Virginia are also free; however, the divisions of corrections run by West Virginia are not smoke-free.

New Mexico’s metropolitan detention centers and the Sandoval detention centers allow smoking outside the facilities.

Facilities like Henderson center Kentucky, have been selling e-cigarettes to inmates. This decision had been previously rescinded before it was overturned. The facility got the product from the crossbar electronic company, which it resold to inmates at high markups.

How Do They Light Up the Cigarettes?

If you have been in prison, you must be aware that there are no matchsticks or lighters sold within the facility. Anything that can start a fire is considered contraband and can place an inmate in trouble with the authorities if caught.

So how do inmates light their cigarettes? Well, as previously said, inmates are quite ingenious, and to get a smoke session started, all they need is a pair of batteries and a strip of the coil.

The inmate will first have to scratch off paint from a piece of metal, after which they place the AA batteries and the foil. You do this by placing the batteries, one positive side up, and one negative side up. Place the foil between the two batteries terminals, and voila, a flame comes up to light the cigarette.

The Legislative Side of Inmates Smoking

Cigarette bans were not only influenced by legislation; rather, even the courts took a swipe at it. In 1993, the U.S Supreme Court ruled that an inmate’s involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke is an intrusion to their rights.

The case involved an inmate William McKinney, who bunked with a smoker that used around five packs a day. The case was adjudicated upon around 1993, which meant smoking was still quite prevalent, and it was allowed within prison facilities.

McKinley was exposed to a huge amount of second-hand smoke in and outside his cell, which led to several health complications. McKinley decided to file a civil rights lawsuit. In his ruling, the judge agreed with the inmate in that second-hand smoke was a violation of his 8th amendment rights.

Punishment for Inmates Found Smoking

In case an inmate is found in possession of cigarettes in a facility where they are prohibited, they will be punished. Each facility in the United States has some policy power in terms of how it is run. This means that different facilities will have different punishment methods including stripping away of inmate visitation rights, going to the hole, stripping of phone call privileges, etc.

Conclusion: Can You Smoke in Prison or Jail?

Whether or not you can smoke in prison depends on the facility and connections within the facility. If you expect to smoke in an American prison legally, you may be in for a long wait; however, there are cigarettes in nearly all security facilities if you choose to smoke illegally. The question, therefore, as to whether inmates can smoke in prison or jail is yes, they can. However, be ready for punishment in case you are found with the cigarettes.