Smoking ban goes into effect for state prisons
Beginning this week, inmates and employees of Nebraska's state prisons will lose their smoking privileges while they're on state property.
On Monday, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services implemented a state-wide ban on all cigarettes and tobacco products.
The new policy applies to all 12 state institutions, which house 3,932 inmates, said Frank Hopkins, assistant director for adult institutions.
The ban will not only affect inmates who smoke, he said, but will apply to state employees as well.
The use of tobacco products indoors has been prohibited for years, Hopkins said, and now such use is prohibited on all state property, which means employees will not be allowed to smoke in their cars if they're parked in a state parking lot.
Employees may still smoke as long as it's during a break that allows them enough time to leave state property, he said.
"They will have to be in a position in which they're authorized to take a break and be back in an appropriate amount of time, " Hopkins said.
Steve King, public information officer for the department, said the ban was announced Nov. 19, shortly after the decision was made by Harold Clarke, director for the Department of Corrections.
King cited four main reasons for the ban, which he said has been a topic of discussion for years.
The nonsmoking policy targets improving the health of those affected by smoking and reducing overall medical costs, he said.
The ban also is being implemented because of sanitation purposes, King said. Reducing the number of lawsuits the department receives on account of smoking has been another major factor.
He said the department has been dealing with several lawsuits filed by those affected by secondhand smoke, many of which are still pending.
Eliminating such litigation is the driving force behind implementing the ban, King said.
Mike Kenney, warden of the Nebraska State Penitentiary, said smoking cessation devices would be available to inmates upon request.
As of Monday morning, only nicotine patches were being offered to inmates, he said, and would be "available at their own cost."
Before the ban, Kenney said the department did not provide smoking cessation alternatives.
Of the 1,150 inmates in the Nebraska State Penitentiary, he said approximately 70 percent were smokers.
Kenney said he was not certain what percentage of the 450 employees at the State Penitentiary smoked because the department does not track employee statistics.
If inmates are caught smoking, he said they may be restricted to their rooms or lose "good time," the time subtracted from their sentences.
Employees will be disciplined under the same policies that are currently in effect, Kenney said, which means they may receive a written warning or a term disciplinary probation.
At 11 a.m. Monday morning inmates and employees were responding well to the change, Kenney said.
"The inmates and staff seem to have a good attitude about it," he said. "They understand that the reasons for the ban are rational ones."
He said because of the increased tension and edginess inmates are likely to experience, the staff is in a heightened state of alert.
Kenney said handling volatile inmate behavior caused by nicotine withdrawal has been the subject of many staff meetings prior to the ban, and prison staff is prepared for such incidents.
Some employees have informed the warden they intend to use the ban as an opportunity to quit smoking, Kenney said, but there are others taking the change a little harder.
"We understand it's a very difficult habit to break and we're going to support them in every way we can," Kenney said.
There are currently 30 states that prohibit smoking inside prison buildings. Nebraska joins nine other states banning tobacco products anywhere on prison property.