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Smoke ’Em if You Got ’Em, Says Oklahoma DOC

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) has partially reversed its six-year-old smoking ban. Citing increased prisoner health care costs caused by smoking, the DOC banned cigarettes in all its facilities in 2004.

Since then, predictably, a black market for tobacco has thrived. Some prisoners reportedly make as much as $4,000 a month from selling contraband tobacco.

In August 2010, the DOC decided to partially lift its smoking ban by authorizing smoking at twelve minimum-security prisons. Smoking remains restricted at higher security facilities.

The decision to modify the smoking ban resulted from a reassessment of the health care costs associated with smoking by minimum-security prisoners.

According to Jerry Massie, a spokesperson for the DOC, smoking by minimum-security prisoners does not significantly increase health care costs because such prisoners generally are not incarcerated for long.

Massie also indicated that guards had more important things to do than chase down smokers. “We’re short-staffed. Do we want to spend time chasing tobacco around the yards?” he said. Not mentioned was how many DOC employees had been caught smuggling tobacco into the prison system since the smoking ban began.

Massie denied claims that the DOC decided to lift the ban in order to increase commissary sales. In fiscal year 2009, Oklahoma prison commissaries had almost $14 million in sales resulting in $2.4 million net profit. Bringing back cigarettes, even at only minimum-security facilities, will likely boost those numbers significantly.

State Rep. Doug Cox said he was “surprised, dismayed and disappointed” at the DOC’s decision to permit some prisoners to resume smoking, calling it a “direct slap in the face to the state Health Department’s goal of decreasing tobacco use in Oklahoma.”

Sources:, Reuters

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