- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

LANCASTER, Calif. (AP) — California’s ban on tobacco in prisons has created a burgeoning black market behind bars, where a pack of smokes can fetch up to $125.

Prison officials who already have their hands full keeping drugs and weapons away from inmates now are spending time tracking down tobacco smugglers, some of whom are guards and other prison employees. Fights over tobacco have occurred: At one Northern California prison, guards had to use pepper spray to break up a brawl involving 30 inmates.

The ban was put in place in July 2005 to improve work conditions and cut rising health care costs among inmates, but it also has led to burgeoning tobacco trafficking. The combination of potentially big profits and relatively light penalties are worsening the problem.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Lt. Kenny Calhoun of the Sierra Conservation Center, a Northern California prison where officials report cigarette prices of $125 a pack.

Darren Cloyd is nearing the end of his 15-year sentence at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, for second-degree armed robbery. Before the ban he remembers paying about $10 for a can with enough rolling tobacco for dozens of cigarettes. Now just one contraband cigarette can cost that much.

“The black market is up here,” said Cloyd, 37. “Everyone and their momma smoke.”

California has the nation’s largest prison population — 172,000 adult inmates. While many states limit tobacco use in prisons, California is among only a few that ban all tobacco products and require workers as well as inmates to abide by the prohibition.

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