Detention Center Inmates Find 'Smokedown' A Drag

March 18, 1992|By Brian Sullam | Brian Sullam,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Not everyone in the Carroll County Detention Center is happy about Sheriff John Brown's decision to begin a "smokedown" that ultimately will lead to a smoking ban inside the building.

The inmates in the 120-person center are probably more incensed than the deputies because they can't get outside to take a quick drag or two.

"These cigarettes are the last . . . thing I have left," said George C. Smith III, who has been in the detention center a month awaiting trial for non-payment of about $13,000 in child support. "It is the only pleasure a lot of us have left."

Smoking may be pleasurable, but the sheriff said everyone knows it is also unhealthy.

"I know that some of these people have been smoking all their lives, but wecan help them break the habit," Brown said.

The idea for eliminating smoking at the detention center came from the county grand jury during one of its visits to the center.

Under the rules that Brown established, the number of cigarettes the inmates can purchase has dropped from 10 packs a week to nine packs. As the weeks progress, the number of packs they will be able to buy will decrease, so that by June 1 they won't be able to buy any cigarettes.

Brown said it wouldbe cruel to force the inmates to quit cold turkey. Several years agothe department tried -- and failed -- to get the inmates to quit cold turkey.

For Smith, the smokedown has meant he involuntarily has become a one-pack-a-day smoker. He said several inmates have written to the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to see if the involuntary program violates their civil rights and whether they have any redress.

Officials of the ACLU office in Baltimore were not available for comment on the case.

"I realize that we aren'there because we are nice guys, but this seems a bit much," Smith said.

Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said officials have not tried to enforce a no-smoking policy at state institutions.

Some inmates and deputies have groused that Brown is being a hypocrite in enacting the smoking ban while he continues to puff away at his cigarettes. Brown acknowledged he was on shaky moral ground and took action.

"I quit two days ago," he said. "I decided, 'How could I impose this policy if I continue,' " said Brown, who said he had smoked for about 45 years."Let's face it, it isn't a healthy habit."

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