Ending the Tobacco Problem - Resources for Local Action
Institute of Medicine

Call To Action


 

Smoke-Free Prisons

 

Some correctional facilities have been slow to adopt smoking bans, fearing that such bans will cause problems among inmates and staff. While some indoor smoking bans have passed, almost half of all states still do not have comprehensive smoking bans in their correctional facilities. In 2004, the Federal Bureau of Prisons placed a near-total ban on smoking in 105 federal prisons.

 

Making correctional facilities smoke-free is not only feasible, but it is very important for the health of the prisoners and the staff who work in the prisons. A total ban in prisons would affect thousands of staff as well as approximately two million inmates [1].It could improve overall inmate health and may reduce health care costs in prisons [2]. Some have raised practical concerns about instituting smoke-free policies; specifically, prison administrators fear that smoking bans may lead to increased tension between inmates and staff. However, a 2001 survey of the 51 U.S. prison systems with bans revealed increased violence in only two of the systems. Twenty percent reported increased inmate-staff tension [3]. While much of the focus is on statewide prison smoking bans, local jails can also institute smoking bans. Such bans frequently can be enacted by city governments.

 

Community Action: One Man's Success Through Collaboration

 

In November 2006, a correctional officer named Jeff Gill, who was concerned about the amount of tobacco being used in the prisons and the resulting health effects, started the coalition Smoke Free Illinois Prisons. The coalition, which had no money, began by creating a website and e-mailing newspaper reporters. Its aim was to help prison employees and the public work together to advocate for smoke-free prisons. Gill began with an email to a newspaper reporter who had written stories about ongoing anti-tobacco efforts in the state. He began interviewing with local television stations, newspapers, and magazines. His press coverage resulted in publicity for the website, which allowed people to become involved.

 

Smoke Free Illinois Prisons then initiated a petition to demonstrate to lawmakers the support for a complete tobacco ban in prisons. The petition's goal was simple: to ban the use and possession of tobacco in prisons in order to save money and protect health. Visitors to the website could print the petition and return it to Gill. Many printed several copies of the petition and brought them to church, work, and other community events. More than 400 people responded in just three months.

 

Throughout its months of work, Smoke Free Illinois Prisons worked closely with other anti-tobacco advocacy groups in the state, including the Department of Health, the American Cancer Society and Smoke-Free Illinois. In 2007, the Illinois General Assembly passed the Smoke-Free Illinois Act, which barred smoking in public places, places of employment, and governmental vehicles. Prisons were no exception. As of Jan. 1, 2008, offenders were no longer able to purchase or possess tobacco-related products.

 

The banning of smoking in Illinois prisons was the result of months of advocacy efforts by groups and individuals. Jeff Gill's concern about the problem of tobacco use in prisons prompted him to take action. By working with other individuals and groups, he achieved his goal of banning tobacco use in prisons. Gill is a prime example of a single citizen whose concern about a health problem can effect enormous change.


[1] BJS (Bureau of Justice Statistics). (2005) Summary findings: Prisons.  Web Page. Available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/prisons.htm; accessed May 11, 2007

[2] The Monitor's View. (2005) Snuffing out tobacco in prisons. Christian Science Monitor July 7 2005, p. 8.

[3] Hammond, S. K, Emmons, K. M. 2005. Inmate exposure to secondhand smoke in correctional facilities and the impact of smoking restrictions. Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology 15(3):205-211.


Reference: Smoke Free Illinois Prison

Gill, J. (2009, February 10, 17, 24, March 9). Director Smoke Free Illinois Prisons. Interview.

BJS (Bureau of Justice Statistics). (2005) Summary findings: Prisons. Web Page. Available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/prisons.htm ; accessed May 11, 2007

The Monitor's View. (2005) Snuffing out tobacco in prisons. Christian Science Monitor July 7 2005 p8

Hammond SK , Emmons KM. 2005. Inmate exposure to secondhand smoke in correctional facilities and the impact of smoking restrictions. Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology 15(3):205-211.