State to ban smoking at all prisons

Secondhand smoke lawsuit prompts policy at facilities

Tobacco to be `contraband'

Inmates, employees, visitors to be affected

cessation classes due

March 09, 2001|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Smoking will be banned at all 25 of Maryland's prison facilities under a plan announced yesterday by state correction officials.

Spurred by a federal lawsuit over the hazards of secondhand smoke, state officials plan to prohibit smoking by the prison system's 23,000 inmates, their visitors and 8,000 correctional employees on June 30.

"On that date, tobacco and tobacco products, matches and lighters, will constitute contraband," state Correction Commissioner William W. Sondervan said in a prepared statement.

FOR THE RECORD - An article on forthcoming changes in the state prison system that appeared in yesterday's editions of The Sun inaccurately described new inmate uniforms. The uniforms now being proposed will not be orange jumpsuits, as reported, but blue denim shirts and trousers.
The article also misidentified an employee union, which is now known as the Maryland Correctional Law Enforcement Union.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Prison systems across the country have been moving toward smoking bans, but in Maryland the policy grew out of a 7-year-old federal lawsuit still pending.

Andrew Freeman, a Baltimore attorney representing nonsmoking inmates, filed the lawsuit contending that secondhand smoke violated the Constitution's Eighth Amendment protection from "cruel and unusual punishment."

A federal magistrate ruled last year that the inmates' request for relief be granted. According to the lawsuit, half of the Maryland inmate population smokes, making it difficult to avoid.

Smoking is now banned in all housing areas, with inmates allowed to smoke only in designated areas outside penitentiary housing, but those rules are frequently broken, according to court documents.

Freeman said he welcomes the overall ban on prison smoking. "It's a change whose time has come," he said. "When a person is incarcerated, it's not supposed to be a death sentence."

But news of the smoking ban reverberated through the state's prison system.

M. Kim Howard, president of Maryland Correctional Union Inc., which represents about 400 correctional officers, wants assurances that her union members who smoke are given an adequate amount of time and help to quit smoking before the ban takes place.

"The state better come up with some sort of plan," Howard said.

Inmates and prison workers would be offered help with nicotine addiction, including cessation classes, said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

According to the American Correctional Association, at least 30 states have banned smoking on prison grounds, said James Thurpin, a spokesman for the group.

In Maryland, officials hope to reduce health care costs, cut down the number of fires in facilities and reduce the amount of illegal drugs when tobacco becomes the chief contraband.

But in Indiana, which instituted a smoking ban in 1997, the prison system has seen problems with smuggling of tobacco by guards and prison workers.

"It's tough to monitor," said Pam Pattison, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Corrections. "I can't say we've met all the challenges. Tobacco has become the drug of choice."

At Maryland's Patuxent Institution, a psychiatric treatment facility in Jessup, a smoking ban implemented in October has gone smoothly, said Director Richard B. Rosenblatt.

The best result, Rosenblatt said, has been the reduction of fires breaking out in the facility from matches or lighters. Before the ban was implemented, the facility offered a seven-week cessation program for inmates, he said.

The Baltimore City Detention Center, which is under state control, also has banned smoking for five years.

Lamont W. Flanagan, commissioner for pretrial detention, acknowledged that the smoking ban has created a black market for cigarettes. A pack could sell for as much as $20 in the jail, he said.

"Once we prohibited smoking," Flanagan said, "cigarettes became contraband."

Yet even in states that have had trouble enforcing the smoking ban, such as Indiana, officials say they wouldn't change it.

"You walk around the facilities now, and you don't see cigarette butts everywhere," Pattison said.

In addition to the smoking ban, state officials announced that prisoners would soon be wearing orange jumpsuits, instead of the civilian clothes they now are allowed to wear.

Uniforms will reduce disagreements over clothing and gang activity, Sipes said. He did not have an estimate on how much the uniforms will cost the state, but said they will be made by the prisoners.

"It's clearly a security measure," Sipes said. "We have considered uniforms for quite some time, but budget concerns have always put it on the back burner."

Flanagan, who supervises a revolving inmate population of 90,000 people annually, requires the uniforms saying it helps eliminate fights among inmates.

"It limits the conflicts over clothes, particularly in the juvenile population," Flanagan said. "It has substantially reduced violence."

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