Updated: State to ban tobacco use in prisons

The state Department of Corrections will ban all tobacco use at its 37 facilities by the end of next year, becoming the 11th state to implement a total withdrawal of smoking at its prisons.

Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday that the agency will begin a phase-out of tobacco use beginning Jan. 1.

“It’s 2010 in a few days and it’s time to do the right thing,” Owens said.

Corrections’ decision follows a similar one announced this week by the Department of Mental Health. But Mental Health has said it will implement a total smoking ban in all seven state mental hospitals on Jan. 5. The Department of Corrections is taking a staggered approach, Owens said.

Beginning Jan. 1, smoking and tobacco use will be banned at two diagnostic facilities where inmates are evaluated after being transferred from county jails. Then, on July 1, 2010, the Augusta State Medical Prison — where the system’s sickest inmates are housed — will go tobacco free, followed by a total tobacco ban in all state prisons beginning Dec. 1.

Owens said he recently surveyed county sheriffs and jailers and found that almost all are already tobacco free. Inmates, Owens said, “were getting off tobacco in the county jails and then getting back on it when they came into the state system.”

Owens believes the phase-out of tobacco use at prisons, which will also apply to prison staff, will allow inmates to prepare and the department will offer cessation programs for those who want to participate.

It will, Owens said, allow Corrections officials to “implement this policy without many ripples.”

Smoking inside prisons has been banned in Georgia since the 1990s, but as in dozens of other states it is allowed in outdoor areas. When the state first implemented the smoking ban in prisons in 1995, about 150 inmates at the Lee Correctional Institution in Leesburg refused to work during a 90-minute protest against the policy. All but seven of the protesting inmates went to their job assignments at the prison after the warden called in the prison’s riot squad.

But if the experience in other states is any indication, the transition could go smoothly.

Jeff Eiser, a national expert on prison operations, ran a prison in Cincinnati when tobacco was banned there.

“Honestly? It was more difficult for the staff than for the inmates,” Eiser said. “Generally, the inmates adopted so much better than we thought.”

But the ban did bring another problem: Cigarettes, which once were treated as currency in prisons, suddenly became contraband.

“Cigarettes were going initally for more money than marijuana was” inside the prisons, Eiser said. “There was more of a demand for it. It was an interesting dynamic.”

And instead of cigarettes being used as currency to pay debts or level bribes among prisoners, Eiser said the inmates turned to whatever they could. As in Georgia, cigarettes at Eiser’s prison were sold at the prison commissary. With those gone, whatever was on the commissary shelves became used as currency.

“It was a transition to cookies, candies, anything they can buy,” he said. “We had a thing where you could get somebody ‘hit’ for a couple of big cookies. Chips, potato chips, candy, whatever it is becomes the currency. You could get beat up or badly hurt for not paying up in chips.”

Owens said he’s making the move for two reasons: It will save taxpayers money in health care costs for inmates and it will protect non-smoking prisoners from second-hand smoke.

The state spends more than $226 million a year on inmate health care — or about 17 percent of its total budget. While Owens said he cannot estimate how much money the state will save in decreased health care costs from the smoking ban, state officials have said tobacco-related disorders among inmates costs the state millions year.

The ban will “definitely have a positive impact on the prison population,” said Kymberle Sterling, an assistant professor at the Institute for Public Health at Georgia State University. “A smoking ban is a great idea.”

Bill Todd, president of the Georgia Cancer Coalition, said smoking bans, along with higher tobacco taxes and tougher laws enforcing minimum age requirements to purchase tobacco are effective methods of lowering smoking rates.

“They save lives,” Todd said. “We’re enthusiastic and excited about it.”

47 comments Add your comment


November 9th, 2009
1:08 pm

Great idea. But it has to be phased in to work. Also, give inmates credit for time not smoking. Take back time earned if they are caught smoking.


November 9th, 2009
1:10 pm

When the Indiana Prison System transferred prisoners from Arizona to Indiana, they didn’t realize that the no-smoking policy in Indiana prisons would cause any problems. The new prisoners from Arizona rioted and tore up a brand new prison. They were evenually returned to Arizona.


November 9th, 2009
1:15 pm

Who cares if they all smoke, get cancer and die? I think they should be lined up and made to smoke.

Brian Asselstine

November 9th, 2009
1:16 pm

Cool…now they’ll have more time to sexually assault one another.


November 9th, 2009
1:19 pm

What will prisoners use as currency? Aren’t cigarettes used in exchange for other things: protection, sex, drugs….

Also, cigarettes were sold in the prison commissary at a nice profit to the State…wonder how they are going to replace this revenue? Probably more tax on those of us not in prison…..

Paul A

November 9th, 2009
1:21 pm

Brilliant…. Tobacco is a legal product people.

Now they’ve just created another underground black market in Georgia’s prisons. Of course the guards want the ban. Now they will smuggle cigarettes to the inmates.

Anybody who thinks people in prison won’t find ways to get cigarettes is not only naive but clearly liveing in a fantasy world.

The funniest part is where they claim it’s to protect the other inmates from second hand smoke… LMAO! Let’s see…. We’ll protect you from smoke but allow you to be robbed and raped on a daily basis…. This would be hilarious except that people are horribly abused everyday in Georgia’s lockups.

They’re locked up… They ain’t going nowhere… If it keeps the peace then let them smoke.

We don’t need tobacco riots and any more related stabbings in Georgia’s prisons.

Rusty Shackleford

November 9th, 2009
1:23 pm

Won’t this just create a black market for smokes? Just one more thing to be smuggled in.


November 9th, 2009
1:36 pm

I am tobacco free mostly, I have a occasional cigar! I just want you liberals to know with your socialist gains. I am, promoting NO SEX. It kills more than tobacco throught abortions. Sex makes the earth warmer too! I mean no SEX, no sex with women or men or kids liberals. You will have to forget sex for your own good. We know what is good for you.


November 9th, 2009
1:36 pm

Dr. Allen Ault tried this back in the late 90’s didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Brain Owens has never worked inside, let him spend a few nights working a cellblock and see what he thinks of his new policy.


November 9th, 2009
1:43 pm

I was doing time in ‘95 when this was tried. The officers made lots of money off of tobacco products. It was safer for the officers to sell tobacco to inmates rather than drugs, as they usually do. I remember cigarettes being as much as $5/each.


November 9th, 2009
1:45 pm

Yes paul, because low-lifes will find a way around it we should just let it go. Wonder how the world would be if everyone thought like you.


November 9th, 2009
1:47 pm

REALLY? ARE YOU SERIOUS? I agree, this will only bring more frustration to the prisoners and more work and stress for the guards. Secondly, they will now start black marketing smokes, and who will bring that in to the prisoners, THE STATE EMPLOYEES. I could agree with this better if they actually had REHABILIATION in the prison system. But now, this is only adding fuel to the fire… Our entire system should have an overhaul. Let’s see, let’s start with the Governor!!!!


November 9th, 2009
1:54 pm

Please take them away. And while you’re at it, take away the tv’s, basketball courts, weights, baseball, etc. Make prisons a place people don’t want to go and maybe they’ll stop doing the crimes that get them there. Right now, they have more fun and free time than I do on the outside.


November 9th, 2009
1:54 pm

Please! They are in jail. They should be as miserable as possible. This is great.


November 9th, 2009
1:56 pm

WHO GIVES A F*&%K….I am even suprised I wasted my time to type this…but now that I have….I still think they should chain gang these folks and pick up trash, and break rocks.

Inmate #25687927

November 9th, 2009
1:57 pm

I’m down with this. Just don’t ban my black tar heroin! Gotta go…2 o’clock headcount is about to start.

Tired of the whole government takeover

November 9th, 2009
2:00 pm

I am really getting sick and tired of the government telling adults what they can and can’t do and when and where. When is this going to stop people. Dont you get it. They are taking away freedom after freedom and you sit there and agree with them until its your freedoms that they go after. Enough is enough. If an adult american wants to smoke, then there should be provisions made to accompany then. A smoking room or a restricted smoking area. Thats the American thing to do. And as for the taxes that they have emposed on this particular group of people. Wow, it is truely unconstitutional and is way over taxed. Drinking and soda and potato chips are coming. Watch your backs people.


November 9th, 2009
2:29 pm

Tired of the whole: Generally speaking, I agree that the government shouldn’t tell adults what to do — including smoking. With most adults, the government should not force you to, for example, live in a certain place, stay indoors most of the day, restrict your phone calls, restrict your television usage, or restrict what you can purchase. Adults should, for the most part, have the right to own a steak knife.

But…dude? We’re talking about prisoners. Should prisoners have the right to smoke? As far as I’m concerned, prisoners should have the right to do their time in a relatively safe environment with adequate health facilities and without cruel and unusual punishment. Other than that…TV, telephones, snacks, cigarettes — none of those “freedoms” are, or should be, guaranteed. If allowing those freedoms to prisoners creates a greater tax burden on the rest of society, and society wants to save a few bucks by not having to pay for healthcare for smoking prisoners…I’ve got no objection.


November 9th, 2009
2:30 pm

um..to “tired of the whole gov takeover”….you are an idiot….i am pretty sure that the LAW says dont rob, steal, kill, rape….etc. therefore…NOONE in prison has the right to to jack squat except do their time…and try to be a better person when you get out of jail. PERIOD. laugh @ a smoking room….are you serious??? wow…provisions to accompany???? wrong answer.

Big Brother

November 9th, 2009
2:31 pm

Yes, watch out fatties, I’m coming for your snacks. Please, you paranoid weirdos, fill your lithium prescriptions. Smoking is not a right, it is a priviledge – a disgusting priviledge that can harm others if they are exposed to it for extended periods of time.


November 9th, 2009
2:34 pm

When one person gets hurt, guard or whomever, because an inmate goes bonkers….is it really worth it…..I can see this one getting out of hand quickly….

Turd Ferguson

November 9th, 2009
2:37 pm

Little by little Big Brother takes away our rights. Piece by Piece, strand by strand.


November 9th, 2009
2:45 pm

Prisoners have no rights. Take away everything! Let them sleep on the floor!


November 9th, 2009
2:47 pm

I agree, prison should be a miserable place where no one wants to be. If they take away smoking and amenities like television, perhaps it won’t be so appealing to some people. Some of these people are living better off of our tax dime then they were when they were free. They should keep the libraries, and educational classes, but the rest of it should go.


November 9th, 2009
2:59 pm

People complain that they are losing freedoms, yet the majority just sit there and complain and won’t get up to do something about that. A lot of people are scared to be labled a “terrorist”, yet a “terrorist” is when a person or a group of people put fear into the citizens such as the U.S. Government, as they are scared the people will put fear back where it belongs into the Government. That said to those complaining about the Government taking away too many freedoms, the prisoner does not need to have cigarettes or television, and do what they do in Italy prison systems if you have a family and want to eat the family should be the one to provide food, or if you don’t have a family get feed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.


November 9th, 2009
3:00 pm

Just one more thing the guards will be selling or trading out. I know for a fact, that drugs of all kinds are readily available and pot is smoked on a regular basis in jail’s and especially prison’s. The guards even selling cell phones. Our system is already a joke. I don’t see how banning smoking is going to help a thing, but produce more angry prisioner’s.

Show You

November 9th, 2009
3:06 pm

This makes no sense! If they want to smoke let’em, to the person talking about kill’em all you are truly ignorant – I hope your first born is a STILL BABY, if you have made it past that, hopefully their life will end prematurely! Also not only is this not really going to happen, I think we need to focus on more important things. Its your job on the line and you are the one that is going to look bad in the end Owens. GTH!


November 9th, 2009
3:06 pm

If it wasn’t such a desirable place to go, TV, weight rooms, food, etc. the prisons wouldn’t be packed full. Georgia Legislators need to get busy this year on things such as this. If the chain gang was brought back, I bet the crime rates would drop. People are not afraid to go to jail.


November 9th, 2009
3:08 pm

I personally don’t know whether or not the prisoners should or should not be allowed to smoke, because prisoners are being punished yet they play basketball lift weights and get three meals a day. I say take away take away the weights and recreation yard instead. They could also limit use and the right to smoke if the prisoner has been behaving.


November 9th, 2009
3:11 pm

If I was the Governer of GA I would take away televisions from the prisoners.

Show You

November 9th, 2009
3:17 pm

BTW people do go to prison for other things than committing crimes, such as failure to report to probation got me 2 years. I didnt go to prison for 15 felonies, but dont show up to probation for 2 months and i get two years, hmm. Shows how much you all know about anything. That is fine and great – take everything away, but dont ask (force) a prisoner to get up 5 days a week and work for free for the surrounding cities of the prison! Right whats fair is fair – let them do their time and be misrable, but dont expect me, prisoner, to bush axe, sling blade, push mow, weed wack, pick up anything! Simple living for simple people – let them do their time and you live your misrable life. Misory loves company – kill yourself please do us all a favor and ride the world of one more whinning, complaing, democrate!


November 9th, 2009
3:18 pm

who cares….give them something to look forward to one day after prison – less comforts – less likly to return


November 9th, 2009
3:22 pm

You people are talking about what you see in movies and on tv. Their are no more weights, it is on 3 meals on Mon-Thurs, mail only goes out Mon-Thurs. Right now during the fall and winter you dont get a rec yard beacause you work from 5am-5 and it is dark by the time you get in – you are not aloud outside when it is dark. Half the prisons dont have tv. You only get 3 changes of clothes, already used for 7 days in the week – and laundry is done on Mon and Thurs, with no soap just nasty water. So before you talk about things, you should at least have a certin level of understanding on the subject.

Atl Hawk

November 9th, 2009
3:24 pm

Too many people are in jail that should not be. Harmless pot smoking, driving with no lisence, i mean really u want your tax dollars paying for stuff like that. Some people are in there because they made bad choices. In the end they are still human and if God can forgive them then who are YOU to say what they can and cant have. Taking their cigarette away is another way or taking peoplies liberties. And just like my pal said above, wait until they start taking your. OHHH it’s coming.

Atl Hawk

November 9th, 2009
3:27 pm

OOOOOOOOOOhhh i through in the whole pot thing because we all know somebody that smoke pot. I mean c’mon, you dont know anybody.


November 9th, 2009
3:44 pm

Stupid, I have a perfect understanding what goes on in the prison system. I have a couple of friends that do work in the system and I have seen what goes on there. You have no idea what understanding people have that goes on in the prison system, so for you to judge is completely ignorant.


November 9th, 2009
3:48 pm

Show You, failure to report for probation is a crime. Provide real evidence that people go to prison other than a crime, other than error by the court of law. I believe that non violent crimes should not be around and people should be allowed to do what they want as long as they don’t infringe on other peoples rights, then maybe you would not have committed the crime of failure to report.


November 9th, 2009
4:59 pm

This is stupid. Look, I know y’all are big on taking away everything for prisoners: tv, snacks, etc. But if you take everything away, what does a prisoner do with all the free time? Break rocks and pick up garbage? Sure, I guess. How many guards would it take to supervise these newly industrious prisoners? The price would be more than you God fearin’ rednecks want to pay. Taxes, people!

So let ‘em sit around and do nothin’. Do you really think a violent criminal going through nicotine withdrawal is gonna sit on his hands and do nothin’? Or do you think it’s more likely that they’ll create all kinds of havoc and beat the crap out of the guards and each other? “Hell,” you say, “let ‘em beat the crap out of each other. Fine by me.” What about the guards? “They knew what they were gettin’ into. Give ‘em a gun, they can take care of themselves.” So now you’re going to arm all the prison guards and let them walk through a prison filled with violent people…. See where I’m goin’ with this?

It’s easier and cheaper to give ‘em tobacco. If anybody thinks prisoners are “coasting” because they have tv, or they smoke – what have you – then you’re smoking more than tobacco, my friend. Just because they’re locked away doesn’t mean society can forget they exist. Do so at your own peril.


November 9th, 2009
5:46 pm

Sounds like a good idea. I think the people of Georgia should do what they can to lower prisoner healthcare costs.

SpaceyG on Twitter

November 9th, 2009
6:08 pm

Now’s your chance to discover your inner Rhett Butler! Still the South’s sexiest black marketeer after all these years. I am so headed to NC to stock up now! After these velvet poteers come down that is.


November 9th, 2009
6:20 pm

This is one of the stupidist ideas yet! Lawmakers, in Georgia, should be focusing their attention on laws that prohibit smoking in bars and restuarants.


November 9th, 2009
6:34 pm

I believe that they shouldn’t have everything taken away completely, but they should not have televisions and if the person is completely screwed up should be locked away in solitary confinement. Just take less from our taxes to provide for them, just take enough to keep them alive or for the real messed up ones, like I said, put them in solitary confinement.


November 9th, 2009
6:48 pm

I worked for the DOC for 22 years as a maint. man inside several prisons.The one thing you all seem to be missing is if you sell inmates smokes you forget that all state buildings are smoke free and they can’t buy matches or lighters. That means they must be let outside to smoke.They get rec call once a day but it may not be outside rec call but in the gym. There are lighters on the outside for their use,but they never wait for that time to smoke so they light fires inside their living units. I have seen fires in cell blocks so bad people could have died.I have seen lights destroyed and wall outlets melted from pencil lead being put in the outlet in order to make a lighter. The lead will glow like a burner on a stove. Then the whole thing melts in the wall.They also roll up toilet paper in small tight rolls and light them. These are called wicks they can burn for days.These wicks glow only very much like the end of a cigarette. They hide these wicks in wall vents and other places. How safe can this be? An open fire in a dust and lint filled vent .Stamps(US postal) are money in prison. That is how they buy stuff inside.


November 9th, 2009
9:17 pm

This will just create a new way for the guards to supplement their income, just like at the county jails. Go to jail in Douglas County with a pack of cigarettes and a lighter on you. They are confiscated as “contraband”, and then sold to other prisoners.

While the confiscation will not occur at the state level, because arriving inmates are generally arriving from a county facility, the end result will be the same. One more way for the guards to make some extra cash..


November 21st, 2009
6:08 pm

Clueless, just because 1% of officers are crooked doesn’t mean we all are.

I’m all for this ban. It would be one thing if the inmates would respect the smoking rules, but they do not. They smoke inside the dorms where there is no ventilation, and nonsmoking staff and inmates who have nowhere to go to get away from it are forced to breathe in the smoke. Smoking is a privilege that the inmates are losing because (surprise) they have no respect for others.


December 10th, 2009
7:03 pm

Are you people out of your minds?!! — yes, the employees may be smoke free – AT WORK — but they still have the ability to smoke anywhere else.

Dan @ Survive Prison

February 8th, 2010
4:24 pm

Pretty scary stuff…