On November 18, 1994, Texas prison officials voted to ban all tobacco use throughout the states criminal justice system. The ban, unanimously approved by the state Board of Criminal Justice, covers all tobacco products and all property owned or leased by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and applies to prisoners and employees alike. The TDCJ is the second largest prison system in the country with over 100,000 prisoners and 33,000 employees. The ban is scheduled to go into effect on March 1, 1995.
Asked about the smoking ban, Board member Allan Polunsky said: "Were not operating the Ritz Carlton" and prisoners "will have to abide by the rules, and thats it."
PLN has reported on smoking issues in the past. In its 1993 ruling in Helling v McKinney , the supreme court held that prison officials were liable for exposing non smoking prisoners to Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) or second hand smoke [ PLN , Vol. 4, No. 9]. Prior to that ruling there had been a split in the circuits as to whether exposure to ITS violated the eighth amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Many jails across the country have banned smoking. Several bans have been unsuccessfully challenged in court. The challenges have invariably been dismissed because prisoners and detainees have no state or federal constitutional right to smoke. The only prison system to ban smoking prior to this has been the Vermont DOC. That ban only lasted some six months because of the smuggling problem caused by the ban, with cigarettes being sold for $5 each and packs going for up to $80. [ PLN , Vol. 3, No. 7]. Vermont prison officials dropped the smoking ban as unrealistic.
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