The Alcorn County Regional Correctional Facility plans to move slowly on a change in smoking regulations.
As of Feb. 1, the Mississippi Department of Corrections made it legal for inmates to smoke in designated outdoor areas. The agency said it reverses a policy that had stood for 10 years.
Sheriff Ben Caldwell said the new policy is not yet implemented at the Alcorn Regional, but it will involve a designated outdoor area at designated times.
“We are waiting for some more guidance from MDOC and working with the other regional correctional facilities to discuss plans on how to implement it,” he said.
The regional prison is looking at the use of infrared cigarette lighters, as he does not want conventional lighters in the building. He is also concerned about access to tobacco making it difficult to stop smoking in the housing units. With 50 to 60 inmates per unit, that creates secondhand smoke issues.
“My main concern right now,” said Caldwell, “is doing it in a way that we can allow them to use it the right way, that doesn’t affect the inmates that don’t use tobacco and don’t want to be around secondhand smoke.”
Cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco products will likely become available in the canteen when the policy eventually is implemented. MDOC said the products will be sold at current prices alongside the snacks and toiletries that inmates are able to buy.
MDOC Commissioner Burl Cain is touting the change as a way to break a contraband market and generate funds to benefit prisoners.
“Inmates who smoke are smoking anyway,” said the commissioner, “but 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. That compromises our corrections officers and staff and puts them at risk to either break the law by allowing the smoking or to put themselves in danger by enforcing the rule.”
He expects the change to reduce inmate contraband violations and recoup some of the dollars it takes to run prisons.
MDOC plans to use proceeds from the tobacco sales toward a re-entry program and remedial courses. At the Alcorn Regional, Caldwell said profits will go into a fund that benefits the prisoners through the purchase of things such as educational materials.