Michigan Prisons Brace for Total Smoking Ban

LANSING, Mich. — After experimenting with partial bans since the 1990s, the Department of Corrections will completely outlaw smoking at all state prison facilities in February 2009.

Extending the existing ban on smoking inside prison buildings, officials will prohibit the use and possession of tobacco products by inmates and staff on DOC property.

“This action is being taken for various reasons, including litigation challenges facing the department and legislative requirements, in addition to the positive health benefits that will result for all who work at or reside in these facilities,” says DOC Director Patricia L. Caruso.

Under the ban, staff will be permitted to store tobacco in locked vehicles in prison parking lots, but are prohibited from smoking in their vehicles on facility grounds.

The DOC banned smoking in prison housing units in 1997 — reserving some housing units for nonsmokers — while all county jails are tobacco-free, officials say. Michigan banned smoking in all state buildings in 1992.

In 2007, tobacco sales in state prison stores generated more than $4.5 million in revenue for the Michigan DOC. However, state and corrections officials believe a tobacco-free environment will deliver significant long-run cost savings in areas, such as prison medical care, while eliminating potential liability with second-hand smoke lawsuits.

Prison healthcare costs increased to more than $300 million, or approximately 15 percent of the department’s annual operating budget, according to official figures. Approximately 70 percent of the state’s more than 50,000 inmates are self-identified tobacco users, which is three times the national average for the general public.

“I know this is going to be a difficult challenge for many people; the end result will be a benefit to all,” Caruso says.

With a target date of Feb. 1, 2009, the department is already implementing intermediate steps toward transition, such as phasing out the availability of tobacco products in prison commissaries, officials say.

“The department will be taking a proactive approach to assist staff and offenders in this significant lifestyle change,” Caruso says.

The DOC will offer smoking-cessation programs and educational materials to staff and inmates as part of the tobacco-free initiative. A smoking-cessation program for inmates has been in place at every state facility for several years, officials say.

Approximately two-thirds of states have instituted prison smoking bans since the 1990s, according to reports. The Bureau of Prisons prohibited smoking at all federal prisons in 2004.

Despite initial concerns, jurisdictions instituting tobacco prohibitions have not experienced inmate riots or mass staff defections, officials say.

In Danville, Ky., Boyle County Detention Center officials are concerned a new smoking ban will create rising tension and unrest among jail inmates.

The county jail banned tobacco products in February in anticipation of pending state legislation that would require all facilities housing state inmates to be smoke-free, officials say.

The jail stopped stocking and selling tobacco products at the end of 2007 as officials prepared to introduce the ban.

The county health department is attempting to raise money to supply nicotine patches in hopes of mitigating the increased stress, tension, anxiety, frayed nerves and short tempers associated with nicotine withdrawal, officials say.

In March, the South Carolina Department of Corrections, where approximately 40 percent of the state’s 23,000 inmates use tobacco products, instituted a total ban on smoking at its 28 detention facilities, official say.

The ban, which was due to go into effect in 2007, was delayed by staff concerns about operational safety and workplace restrictions.