The Prison Experience Just Isn't The Same Without Cigarettes, Lawmaker Says

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After sticking another inmate with a shiv in the showers, there’s nothing better than a tepid cup of apple wine and a smoke. Unfortunately, TDCJ banned all tobacco products in 1994, making it that much more difficult for a prisoner to relax after a hard day of rec-yard baseball or gang rape.

But all that’s done is create a black market, says State Rep. Terri Hodge (D-Dallas), when lifting the ban could actually benefit more than just the prisoners. With a shortage of correctional officers, it makes little sense for them to play cigarette gestapo. Which is why she’s submitted HB 285, which would lift the tobacco ban.

“They spend a lot of time chasing down cigarettes and other illegal contraband,” Hodge tells Hair Balls. “Since cigarettes are legal, I saw that as a way of bringing them back to the commissary, selling them properly, making designating smoking areas within the prison and use the profits…to have a pay-raise for correctional officers.”

She says it could also be used as a “managerial tool” for the wardens, by denying smokes for certain disciplinary actions. Ultimately, she believes, officials need to face the problem and address it rationally, not just pretend that the concepts of profit motive and supply-and-demand magically disappear behind prison walls.

To wit: a $1.79 bag of rolling tobacco can make around 20 cigarettes, which inmates can sell from $1-$5 a pop, Hodge says. [Cool prison trivia: many inmates roll their smokes with pages ripped from their Bibles].

“Even in the most secure area that you have, due to a lack of proper staffing, due to underpaid workers and people trying to make a living however they can, [inmates] can get anything in this penitentiary [they] want,” she says.

To put it in context, she says the smoking ban has been about as effective as the cell-phone ban.

“We’re just shooting from the hip, with stuff that doesn’t even work, but we’re trying to satisfy the public – or make it appear that we are – no matter how stupid we look in the process,” Hodge says.

She said some other stuff too, but we were in such a hurry to get to Huntsville with a carton of Kools that we really didn’t pay attention.

-- Craig Malisow

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