There will be no smoking in California state prisons starting tomorrow. The Los Angeles Times says the tobacco ban was sold as a boon that would offer a big drop in prison healthcare costs and clean air for inmates and officers who didn’t like to light up. The assemblyman who pushed the ban predicted that it would save at least $265 million a year. Judging from the experience of other states, health costs will go down but forcing inmates to kick the habit has downsides.
One is the birth of a black market for tobacco, long with smuggling, extortion, and violence. About half of California’s 163,000 inmates are addicted to nicotine. Rising tensions are also a worry. When Maine banned smoking in prison in 2000, assaults quadrupled. “Tobacco is gonna be more valuable than dope,” said inmate Michael Johnson. More than 30,000 employees in the 33 state prisons and camps must also abide by the new law.