CommunityPam's House Blend

How soon before the next prison riot?

NC Rep. Hugh Holliman says banning smoking in prisons will save the health of prisoners; Rep. Phil Haire is concerned about the prospect of an underground cigarette trade in the clink.

The NC House has moved to end smoking inside the state’s prisons, for inmates and staff. The Senate has already passed a similar version. The reason, of course, is related to spiraling health care costs and the prevention of smoking-related diseases in the prison population.

Folks should start taking bets now as to when the first riot will occur.

The bill, which gained tentative House approval by a 58-52 vote, also orders the department to ban smoking completely in at least one prison as a pilot project. The state would provide optional smoking cessation programs to staff and prisoners.

Health care within the Division of Prisons cost $138 million for inmate health for the fiscal year that ended June 30, not including dental and mental health services.

Rep. Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, the House’s chief proponent of the Senate bill, said it makes sense to bar cigarettes because of their inherent health risks. Many public buildings restrict smoking in some forms.

Several legislators questioned whether the smoking ban would lead to more unruly prisoners suffering from nicotine withdrawal. Cigarettes will be treated like contraband, said Rep. Phil Haire, D-Jackson.

“We’re going to set up a new illegal trading system in the prisons,” Haire said. He said allowing prison officials to take away a prisoner’s good-behavior credits for smoking also doesn’t make sense.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding