California’s ban on tobacco in prisons has started a burgeoning black market behind bars, reports the Associated Press. A pack of smokes can fetch up to $125. Prison officials are trying to track down tobacco smugglers, some of whom are guards and other prison employees. Fights over tobacco have erupted. At a Northern California prison, guards used pepper spray to break up a brawl among 30 inmates. The ban was imposed in 2005 to improve work conditions and cut rising health care costs among inmates.
“The black market is up here,” said one inmate. “Everyone and their momma smoke.” California has the nation’s largest prison population: 172,000 adults. While many states limit tobacco use in prisons, California is among only a few that ban all tobacco products and require workers as well as inmates to comply. At one prison, officials reported more than 60 tobacco offenses in a month among inmate crews at work camps.