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Banned in Flagler, Welcomed in Prisons: Corrections Reverses Cigarette Prohibition in Work Camps

| September 13, 2013

Smoke-friendly zone.

Smoke-friendly zone.

Corrections officials quietly reversed a blanket ban on tobacco at prisons this summer and are now allowing inmates at work release centers to have up to 10 packs of cigarettes each.

Department of Corrections officials say they lifted the prohibition on tobacco-related products in the work release programs because they didn’t want prisoners so close to completing their sentences to have to go back behind bars for breaking the rules.

But the American Lung Association called the move a mistake.

“I’m surprised,” said Brenda Olsen, chief operating officer of the American Lung Association in Florida. Olsen said it’s incumbent state agencies to “set a good example” by barring or limiting tobacco use.

The switch comes less than two years after DOC made all tobacco-related products off-limits at prisons, work camps and work release centers on Sept. 30, 2011.

“The decision to eliminate smoking and tobacco use was made to reduce the medical cost associated with exposure to tobacco, and eliminate second hand smoke exposure to non-smokers,” the agency said in April 2011, when the ban was announced. The ban also applied to prison workers, who are not allowed to bring cigarettes into facilities, and to visitors. Death Row prisoners are allowed to buy two packs of smokeless tobacco products per week.

The federal Bureau of Prisons and more than half of the other states also ban tobacco in prisons, but the prohibitions have created a new demand for cigarettes, a valuable commodity behind bars. According to some reports, inmates in New York City jails are paying up to $200 for a pack of smokes.

During a six-month period shortly after the Florida ban went into effect, nearly 30,000 inmates or prison workers were caught with some sort of tobacco contraband, according to DOC’s annual report. The report does not say how many of the culprits were staff and how many were prisoners.

The new work camp rule went into effect on June 13 and allows the roughly 3,800 inmates in work programs to have up to 10 packs of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products or 20 cigars, plus one disposable lighter.

The rationale: Inmates on work release can get access to cigarettes, chewing tobacco or other products while they’re in the community.


“The Department determined, after assessment, that it was a better use of resources to not find an inmate in violation, which would potentially cause him/her to go back into prison, for possession of tobacco when so far along in the process of transitioning back into the community, hopefully as a productive citizen,” DOC spokeswoman Jessica Cary said.

Cary said there were “quite a few such incidents” of inmates being sent back to prison for sneaking smokes or other tobacco products into work release centers but no data was immediately available about how widespread the problem is. Prison guards and other staff have also been caught providing contraband tobacco products to prisoners, Cary said.

But making sure prisoners are tobacco-free before they are sent home would help them live healthier lives and save them money once they are released, Olsen said.

“We know how addictive tobacco products are,” Olsen said. “This is a great opportunity for these people to start their journey on having a smoke free life.”

–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

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9 Responses for “Banned in Flagler, Welcomed in Prisons: Corrections Reverses Cigarette Prohibition in Work Camps”

  1. Nancy N. says:

    To be clear: there is a lot of confusion about the terms “work release” and “work camp” at DOC because the names are so similar. They are actually two separate programs, and tobacco has been made “legal” now for inmates who are in community custody level “work release” and transition (read: substance abuse) programs. It is still contraband at the “work camps”.

    Work release is where inmates leave the facility unescorted using public transportation every day to go to a regular job working for an employer in the community where they earn a paycheck just like their co-workers. DOC takes a significant portion of the paycheck as the inmate’s “rent” and the rest is required to go to certain things like paying their fines, their work transportation, child support, etc. This activity takes place in community custody facilities called “work release centers”. Inmates in work release centers wear regular street clothes most of the time and are allowed to carry cash and (because of a recent rule change) are allowed to have a cell phone with extremely restricted use, or use pay phones to call home.

    “Work camps” are minimum/medium security facilities, just like a regular prison. Inmates work for no pay as part of work crews that are contracted by various entities such as DOT, local cities (our Palm Coast city inmate work crew that you see working around town in their blue uniforms is out of the Tomoka Work Camp in Daytona), etc. These crews are escorted as a group by a DOC guard while they do their assigned work for the day. Tobacco is NOT legal for inmates in these centers, they wear blue uniforms, use secure monitored phones that restrict what numbers they can call, and possessing cash is contraband and possessing a cellphone is a felony.

    In other words, work release and work camps are two entirely different things with very similar names.

    This change was absolutely necessary for security reasons. Tobacco was a major source of security issues in the work release centers because of the inmates coming and going from the center constantly, and it was easier for DOC to just let the guys smoke and focus on the really important security issues. With all due respect to Ms Olsen and her pie in the sky fantasies about DOC being able to get the nicotine addicts to see the error of their ways through this ban, the smokers didn’t stop smoking because of the ban. All that happened is that an underground economy evolved to smuggle the stuff. The underground economy lead to violence and other problems that were worse than the tobacco.

    DOC’s stated reasoning at the time of the ban was two-fold: concern about long term health costs and security issues from the lighters being used to create weapons and other security risks. Neither of these arguments applies to the work release centers, since those guys will be getting out within a year and they are extremely low custody. It’s best for all concerned to just let the smokers do their thing legally.

    Now, guys won’t get sent back to prison from work release – a vital rehabilitation program – because a DOC staff member caught them bumming a cigarette off a co-worker on their break during a job check. Seriously, it happened during the ban, regularly. Bumming a cigarette could get you yanked out of a very productive program and sent back to a prison. It was counter-productive, to say the least.

    FYI – I am an ardent non-smoker. I just happen to see the practical and security issues involved and think the least of the evils is for DOC to allow the smoking.

  2. Genie says:

    To Ms. Olsen and others who want to ban smoking: It is up to you to educate, not ban. Are the reasons which you have stated for not smoking all valid? Yes, of course they are. But these are decisions that must be made by the individual, not you.

    Smoking is legal. You do not set a good example by taking things away from people. Never have I seen a community, or a country, so set on controlling the behaviors of the individuals. You are smothering us more than the smokers.

  3. m&m says:

    Typical gutless politicians just like the one in the white house.. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.. All show and no go..

  4. Sherry Epley says:

    Sooooo ironic!

    Now the tobacco addicted criminals will continue to be an even bigger drain on the tax payer by “legally” continuing a poisonous habit in a tax payer owned institution. . . where tax payers are responsible for their health care. AND, when they “do their time” and are released, they will be forced onto “Welfare”, not only because of their criminal record, BUT because they smoke, and no one will hire smokers.

    And the crazy decisions of the “short sighted” go on and on! No prison rehab of any kind. . . just dump the addicted criminals back on society!

    • Nancy N. says:

      There’s two points that you need to understand Sherry.

      First, inmates in work release are responsible for their own health care costs using the money that they earn working. DOC only pays for their healthcare in certain situations (like surgery, since DOC rules don’t allow inmates to be admitted to a regular hospital) or if they are rated as indigent (don’t make enough money to cover any but their required expenses). Inmates in work release are within less than 12 months of release so the biggest possible medical expense from smoking – cancer – which is a long-term risk, is really not of concern to DOC since the inmates will be long gone before that would likely be an issue.

      Concern about the inmates not being able to find work when they get out because they smoke is really not well-founded. You are talking about people who have already managed to find jobs WHILE IN PRISON despite being smokers and convicted felons. Most of these people are either tradespeople or unskilled laborers, many of whom don’t even have GED’s. They don’t work for the kind of employers who offer healthcare or who can afford to be picky about not hiring smokers because their entire labor pool smokes. Practically the entire staffs of a lot of these employers smoke.

      Frankly, most of these peoples’ felony records disqualify them from consideration for the type of job that you aren’t allowed to be a smoker at. Being a convicted felon and having no education is a much bigger issue than whether you smoke or not for most of these peoples’ employment opportunities.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Amazing prisoners have more rights the law abiding people WTF?????

  6. Sherry Epley says:

    Thanks Nancy for explaining the difference between the “work release” program and “work camp”. Yes, there are arguments to be made on both sides of this issue. A much better solution would be to provide what ever tools those in the program need to kick the tobacco addiction, instead of sending them back to prison for smoking. In the current employment climate, if they continue to smoke, they will have an even harder time finding a job when they are permanently released.

    • Ray Thorne says:

      With the current unemployment rate among law abiding citizens, I would think the criminal record will be the obstacle to stand in the way of gaining employment rather than whether or not one smokes.

  7. Diego Miller says:

    I hope with the 4th Amendment and our inealeable right of a free will, this is a decision up to each of us not some bureaucrat and self appointed health cop. Designated smoking areas are fine but stop with the pleasure police.

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