ALBANY, GA (WALB) – Prisoners and workers at the Department of Corrections are about to deal with a big change.
The Department is banning tobacco use at its 37 facilities. In 1995, they banned the use inside buildings and that led to a riot by state prisoners in Lee County. This time they hope phasing it out gradually will ease inmates into the transition.
The state prison system is following the lead of facilities like the Dougherty County Jail that has been tobacco free for 15 years and Lee County Jail that went tobacco free nine months ago. Prison leaders say it's counter productive for inmates to give up smoking in jail only to start lighting up again in a state facility.
By the end of 2010 Georgia's state prisons will be tobacco free. The Georgia Department of Corrections says it's a move that will improve the health of inmates and save tax money by cutting health care costs.
"With tobacco use contributing greatly to health issues and health problems, that's something that we are always cognizant of when it come to the budget, is making sure we contain our health costs this is one of the ways to help do that as well," said Michael Nail, Deputy Director of the Corrections Division.
The Dougherty County Jail banned tobacco products in 1995 when the new jail opened, it's meant a cleaner facility, but created a new problem.
"It has become the largest items of contraband in the jail," said Col. Doug McGinley, the Dougherty County Jail Administrator.
Family and friends have gone as far to leave tobacco outside the guard line for work details. The Department of Corrections says while tobacco may be the new contraband it may cut back on other dangerous substances.
"What is increased in contraband is tobacco, ironically the possession of drugs as contraband actually goes down, so in one sense of it while you still have some contraband by way of tobacco you're minimizing the drug contraband," said Nail.
Dougherty Jail Officials say it's been a while since they've had a complaint.
"Surprisingly it's been 10 or 12 years since we've had a complaint from the inmates that this is a tobacco free facility," said McGinley.
The state's ban of the substance will also mean a loss in the revenue, right now they can sell cigarettes in the commissary, but that will end when the ban takes affect.
Over the next two weeks, inmates will get information from the Department of Corrections explaining how the tobacco ban will take place.
The ban will start January first when tobacco use will be banned at two diagnostic facilities where inmates are evaluated before being transferred into the state system.
The Augusta State Medical Prison will be next followed by other state facilities.