While some entities are arguing that the ban lift will just hurt inmates, the latter are complaining of price-gouging. To this effect, the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) has announced it will be looking into the price-gouging complaint, pointing out that of course the products should not be sold beyond market prices.
“Our plan was to get the current free prices,” said MDOC Assistant Deputy Commissioner Leo Honeycutt. “We don’t want price-gouging in the prisons.” He explained that “name-brand cigarettes are being sold for $5.99 for regular, menthol and light (and) dip is being sold for $2.79 for one brand and $3.13 for another.”
Inmates were procuring the products illicitly
Lifting the ban on cigarettes and smokeless tobaccoproducts will at least ensure they are procuring the products from reliable and safe sources.
Meanwhile, local authorities are pointing that throughout the decade long ban, prisoners had been consuming the products anyway, and therefore, lifting the ban on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products will at least ensure they are procuring the products from reliable and safe sources. “It will cut down on the contraband and gangs using contraband to extort inmates,” said Honeycutt. “It will be safer for everybody.”
The Assistant Deputy Commissioner added that guards, former inmates and others sources, have been caught smuggling all sorts of products into the prisons, and those caught are typically charged.
“By selling the same cigarettes that are allowed to free people, we are breaking the contraband tobacco trade … reducing inmate contraband violations and recouping for taxpayers some of the dollars it takes to run state prisons,” said MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain in a statement.
Naturally, some public health groups, like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, are opposed to the change, mainly due to exposure of second-hand smoke by non-smokers. “We’re disappointed by the recent decision to nullify (a) lifesaving policy that has protected people who are incarcerated, as well as staff, from the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke for over a decade. The leading cause of preventable death, smoking is a proven risk factor for developing cancer, heart disease, and other diseases – and additionally puts people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.”
Setting in place designated smoking areas will ensure better air quality
However, Cain reiterated that while he is sympathetic to the plight of anti-smoking groups, he believes that lifting the smoking ban actually could improve air quality for non-smokers. “The state’s smoking ban was meant to protect others from second-hand smoke but in prison, it backfired by forcing inmates to buy and smoke covertly inside. Then they started tearing out electrical wiring to light the cigarettes, which created a fire and an electrocution hazard,” he said.
“Under our new plan, prisoners have a designated place to smoke that’s outdoors and away from everybody else. We are also offering smoking cessation products for those who want to quit. Another big benefit is we are destroying the contraband market for gangs who were extorting other inmates.”
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