- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2001

First they took their cigarettes. Then they took their clothes.
At the maximum-security Maryland House of Correction Annex in Jessup, inmates handed over personal clothing last week for uniforms of homemade or, in this instance, prison-made denim pants, shirts and sweat shirts. Footwear is also now standard issue: work boots, sneakers and shower shoes.
Inmates angered by the change couldn't even blow off tension with a cigarette, because all tobacco products have been outlawed.
Maryland corrections officials banned all use of tobacco products by inmates and employees at division facilities July 1 as partial settlement of a lawsuit filed by prisoners who complained of the health threat and discomfort they suffered from secondhand smoke.
About half of the 23,000 inmates in the state's 25 facilities smoked before the tobacco prohibition, according to prison officials.
Nobody ever said prison would offer the choices and comforts of home.
Officials believed the changes might provoke protests and attacks, and in late July prisoners staged a strike by refusing to leave their cells. So far, the most serious problem has been a "limited amount" of contraband, officials said.
But the smoking ban isn't popular with many corrections officers, either. In such a high-stress environment, officers themselves often grabbed a smoke to deal with the tension.
"We didn't want to differentiate between staff and inmates," prison spokeswoman Lt. Priscilla Doggett said, explaining why employees also lost the right to smoke outdoors at correctional facilities.
Some contraband cigarettes and other tobacco products have been found, she said, although there has been no formal tracking. And despite claims that some officers left or have sought jobs elsewhere because of the smoking ban, she said administrators have no information leading them to believe this is true.
Smoking-cessation classes are offered to prisoners, but nicotine patches and gum are not. Officials fear that inmates might try to smoke the patches and use the gum to work mischief with locks or other devices.
Annex inmates envy those who only have to wait for an opportunity to light up.
They can't go outside the prison fence, unlike lower-security inmates roadside trash cleanup detail.
The clothing change, implemented so far in only four wings of the annex, is the first phase of a systemwide switch to uniforms to be made at all Maryland correctional facilities over the next four years.
Inmates were allowed to send their own garments home, but because many at the Annex are serving sentences of life without parole, chances are they won't see those clothes again.
While the new prison garb eliminates individual expression, it adds a readily recognizable group identity that public safety officials like.
The shirts' letters "D.O.C." standing for Division of Correction are a sign that the wearer should not be outside prison confines or the reach of uniformed supervisors.
Orange jumpsuits were already the only apparel allowed to be worn by prisoners at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, often referred to as "Supermax," where the most dangerous offenders are kept.
Boot camp inmates also wear blue uniforms with a gold stripe on the outside of the pants' legs.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide