Thomas Co. "weaning" prison inmates off tobacco - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Thomas Co. "weaning" prison inmates off tobacco

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THOMAS COUNTY, GA (WALB) -

By LeiLani Golden - bio | email

THOMAS COUNTY, GA (WALB) –A new state law will soon ban tobacco from all prisons in Georgia.

The transition could be rough for some inmates who've smoked for years and are addicted to nicotine.

But the warden of Thomas County Prison came up with a plan six months ago that will help his inmates make that transition more smoothly.

More than 60% of Thomas County prison's population is addicted to the nicotine in tobacco. And come January 1st, they won't be allowed to buy any more tobacco products from the prison commissary.

"For some, yeah of course, it's not going to be easy," admits Robert "Bobby" Geer, the Thomas County Prison warden. "Some of them have been doing it for years, decades for that matter."

But Geer saw the potential problems that could accompany inmates going through withdrawals. So in July, he began allowing less and less of the tobacco products in the commissary.

"I knew I needed to start early and couldn't just do it overnight. I wanted to wean them off for the transition," Geer explains.

The prison is also offering nicotine patches, gum, and anti smoking videos and brochures to aid in the transition.

"We're there to help them as much as we can," Geer says. "Some people will take advantage of the smoking sensation classes and be successful. But some won't do it. It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks."

Now, the prison is focusing on the possibility that visitors or inmates out on work details may smuggle in tobacco, which can be very profitable for a dealer.

"One of the guards said you could get $75 out of one bag," says Kevin Lee, the commander of Thomas County Narcotics Division. "I don't know how many cigarettes you can roll with that but it's a lot of money for a little bag."

Geer admits, "It's going to be just like marijuana or cell phones or any other illegal item they're not supposed to have that will be treated as contraband and we'll have to search out and find."

And officials are warning people that giving an inmate anything without the warden's permission won't be tolerated and could land someone behind these bars.

Officials say removing tobacco from the commissary is actually increasing the store's profits because prisoners are buying things like snacks as a substitute.

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