Smoking to be allowed again in some Oklahoma prisons
Tobacco use will once again be permitted at minimum-security prisons in Oklahoma starting in August.
July 22, 2010
BY VALLERY BROWN
Inmates in a dozen state prisons will be able to light up and puff away next month without consequences from corrections staff.
Cigarettes will again be sold in minimum-security prisons, and prisoners will be able to smoke starting Aug. 2, state Corrections Department officials have confirmed.
Smoking will be allowed outside in designated areas, said Jerry Massie, Corrections Department spokesman.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for several months, but we’re just now writing the policies,” Massie said. Tobacco use was banned statewide in all prisons in 2004.
At the time, corrections officials cited smoking-related health care costs as making up nearly half of all hospital expenses in the prison system.
Now, they say health care costs aren’t an issue.
Smoking in minimum-security prisons won’t contribute much to costs because minimum-security inmates generally spend less time in custody, Massie said.
They also tend to have more freedom than inmates in higher-security prisons because of good behavior and less severe sentences.
Smoking always has been difficult to control, Massie said.
Allowing smoking makes one less thing to monitor with budget cuts that have resulted in record-low staffing levels.
Under old rules, inmates found with tobacco could be cited for misconduct. Punishments ranged from segregation to a loss of good behavior credits that can shorten an inmate’s sentence.
There are no plans to extend smoking privileges to medium- or maximum-security prisons, Massie said.
Last fiscal year, canteen sales revenue totaled nearly $14 million, with a net profit of $2.4 million for the prisons.
Canteens in prisons sell items such as notebooks, candy and snacks and, now, tobacco products.
Massie said each prison commissary will decide which tobacco brands to sell. Massie dismissed the idea that cigarette sales would significantly help increase profits.
Tobacco contraband has proven to be a valuable black-market item, said a female inmate currently incarcerated at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft on a first-degree manslaughter conviction. Her name has been withheld to protect her from retaliation.
She said women who push cigarettes in the prison brag of making upward of $4,000 a month.
At a time when money is tight, tobacco can act as currency and spur the sale of other under-the-table goods.
“Women are dealing and distributing and reinforcing street criminal behavior,” the inmate said.
At the same time, completely allowing smoking again will likely get former smokers addicted on tobacco again, the inmate said.
“It’s a short-term gain for a long-term cost,” she said.