LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - The medium-security Kentucky prison that
was burned last month during an inmate riot had a more relaxed
smoking policy than some others in Kentucky, including four public
prisons that have banned smoking altogether.
Northpoint Training Center in Burgin not only allowed smoking in
designated outdoor areas but let prisoners keep matches with them.
Smoking was banned there temporarily after the riot last month,
which left several buildings beyond repair and forced around 700 of
the 1,200 inmates to be relocated. Now inmates are allowed to have
cigarettes again but must ask guards to light them.
That is also the policy for the special management population at
the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, where smoking is
allowed under state law, Public Protection Cabinet spokeswoman
Jennifer Brislin said. Other inmates there can keep matches.
Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange was the first public
prison in Kentucky to ban smoking in May 2006, followed by
Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, the Kentucky
Correctional Institution for Women in Pewee Valley and the Roederer
Correctional Complex in LaGrange. Brislin said cigarettes were
outlawed there because those institutions house inmates with health
Some private prisons in the state also are smoke-free, Brislin
Even some prisons that allow smoking don't allow inmates to have
matches. Green River Correctional Complex in Central City, which
houses medium and maximum security inmates, bans them but lets
prisoners light their cigarettes using electric igniter boxes
attached to the wall in the prison yard.
"The smoking policy is continually looked at, but it's a
long-phrase-in process," Brislin said. "The incident at
Northpoint hasn't generated any new review."
Jim McDonough, the former secretary of the Department of
Corrections in Florida, said that state allows inmates to smoke in
outdoor areas but doesn't let them have matches. Instead, prison
staff provides them with special lighters with extremely limited
amounts of lighter fluid.
McDonough said there were no riots on his watch, from 2006 to
2008. Banning smoking inside an already high-stress environment of
a prison could backfire, he said.
"There are very few perks in prison," McDonough said.
"Generally one thing you don't tamper with is smoking, even though
they know it's unhealthy. It is such an addiction, you do it with
Kathleen Dennehy, former commissioner of the prison system in
Massachusetts, said facilities there used to sell matches and
lighters at the canteen, and occasionally inmates would set fires
to trash cans in their cell.
The system has since gone smoke-free, primarily to curb health
care costs. A secondary benefit is the policy gets matches out of
the hands of prisoners, she said.
"Should a riot occur, inmates will use anything at their
disposal," Dennehy said.
George Camp, co-president of Criminal Justice Institute, a
prison consulting company, says fires are not uncommon in prison
riots - even when matches are banned.
Outlawing smoking can sometimes do as much harm as good when it
comes to controlling the inmate population, he said. Often, that
will create a black market in which a pack of cigarettes could be
sold for hundreds of dollars.
"Cigarettes become highly prized and valued contraband," Camp
said. "Whereas in the past cigarettes were readily accessible,
inmates may try to smuggle them in. Their value increases
dramatically and you create an underground commodity."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)