By Associated Press - Thursday, December 24, 2020

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The head of Mississippi’s prison system says inmates will be allowed to smoke, starting Feb. 1 - a move designed to break the trade in contraband tobacco that’s smuggled inside.

Smoking has been banned for a decade in the state’s 21 prisons and other facilities, but Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain said in a news release Wednesday that some inmates have been lighting up, anyway.

“They’re having to smuggle in tobacco to do it, which is illegal, and it’s even more illegal because state law prohibits smoking in state buildings,” Cain said.

Deputy Commissioner Jay Mallett said inmates have been paying up to $500 a pound for smuggled tobacco, and those caught smoking have lost the chance for early release.

Cain said prison employees have been put at risk by either enforcing the no-smoking rule or by looking the other way and allowing the violation.

“By selling the same cigarettes that are allowed to free people, we are breaking the contraband tobacco trade, designating smoking areas outside, clearing the air inside for the majority of inmates who don’t smoke, reducing inmate contraband violations and recouping for taxpayers some of the dollars it takes to run prisons,” Cain said.

Cigarettes will be sold at current prices in the prisons’ canteens where inmates buy snacks and toiletries. Cigars and smokeless tobacco products will also be sold.

Profits from prison tobacco sales will help buy simulators and computer programs to teach parole-eligible inmates the skills for truck driving, welding and jobs in oil and pipeline work. Tobacco sales will also help pay for remedial courses so inmates can earn high school diplomas.

The Department of Corrections news release said that according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation and other websites, 27 other state correctional departments, including New York, California and Illinois, allow smoking outdoors at prisons, with 15 also allowing the use of other tobacco products.

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