Corrections Department bans prison smoking

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(Host) The Vermont Corrections Department plans to implement a ban on tobacco products in all of its facilities on January 1. However the head of the prison guards’ bargaining unit says he has a lot of questions about the policy.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Inmates arriving at the state’s new prison in Springfield this week are finding a new smoking policy in place. The policy bans all tobacco products and the new rules apply to inmates and guards. The policy will be instituted at all correctional facilities at the beginning of the year.

The state implemented a smoking ban in the early 1990s but it was changed to allow inmates to smoke in outdoor areas. Corrections commissioner Steve Gold says the time has come to ban smoking altogether:

(Gold) “It’s certainly a significant health issue for offenders and for our staff who are exposed to offenders’ smoke, and in fact had been very concerned about their exposure to second hand smoke.”

(Kinzel) Gold says the prisons are in the process of offering smoking cessation programs to the inmates but it’s unlikely that these programs will include any nicotine substitution efforts:

(Gold) “I don’t think we’ll be involved with nicotine patches or those kinds of things because I think that presents a real management and security problem in terms of how those things might be used.”

(Kinzel) Dave Bellini, who’s the chair of the Corrections Bargaining Unit, thinks there needs to be more dialogue between the Department and the guards before the policy is put into place. Bellini says a number of guards are very reluctant to give up their right to smoke in the workplace:

(Bellini) “They’ve been allowed to smoke. They haven’t broken the law. They do a difficult job and this is something that’s quite restrictive on them.”

(Kinzel) Bellini says most guards aren’t too concerned that some inmates may be more difficult to deal with once the smoking ban goes into place:

(Bellini) “I think initially there may be some grumbling. However a lot of our inmates are trying to give up more serious drugs than nicotine. We’ve got plenty of them withdrawing from opiate derivatives.”

(Kinzel) If the smoking ban goes into place on January 1, some guards have suggested that a similar ban be imposed on the central office of the Corrections Department in Waterbury.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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