Local News

N.C. Senate Considers Banning Smoking Inside Prisons

Posted May 30, 2005

— About 70 percent of prisoners in North Carolina smoke. Inmates spend about $3.4 million a year buying cigarettes. And currently, smoking is allowed inside Central Prison, and many prisons restrict smoking to only outside areas.

But this soon may all come to an end as the North Carolina Senate considers a bill that would ban smoking inside prisons.

Ultimately, this bill -- Senate Bill 1130 -- aims to ban smoking anywhere on prison grounds.

The bill, which would affect about 37,000 inmates and 16,000 employees with the Department of Corrections, is being met with stiff resistance from those behind bars.

"You lose so many rights and freedoms being incarcerated as it is," inmate Wade Cox said. "If somebody smokes in the designated areas, it shouldn't be that big an issue."

For taxpayers, prison healthcare is a big deal, officials said.

Last fiscal year, healthcare for prisoners cost taxpayers more than $140 million.

So some people have said, "Look, they're in prison. Why should they even have the right to smoke?"

"I understand that," said Boyd Bennett, director of prisons.

Bennett said he supports banning smoking inside Department of Corrections' facilities by the first of the year.

But he also backs a pilot project and the implementation of a study committee to explore the impact of a total tobacco ban.

"If you do a change too quickly, it could cause disruptions in the system," Bennett said.

Carlos Colon, an inmate, said the ban on smoking would "do nothing but making prisoners angry, especially somebody who's already been in prison 25 years."

Rushod Ramey, also an inmate, said smoking is how inmates relieve stress.

"If stress continues to build up, you're going to have more problems in the prisons," Ramey said.

States such as Texas and Georgia have previously moved to ban smoking in their prisons. But Georgia backed off the idea because of trouble among inmates and officers, who were constantly bribed to smuggle in cigarettes.

N.C. officials said the challenge is balancing the management of inmate behavior with the health risks and costs of smoking, and the current bill under consideration is a compromise.

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