Legislation that would ban smoking in the state’s corrections system has led to some interesting discussion in the House Corrections Committee.
Current state law restricts smoking at correctional facilities to designated areas outside. Representative Chris Molendorp’s (R-Belton) proposal would ban use of tobacco products at correctional facilities beginning July 1, 2013. He says that allows time to engage public health foundations who offer smoking cessation programs.
Molendorp says the budget for medical services for Missouri’s inmate population has jumped by $15 million in the last two fiscal years to a proposed $149 million in the Governor’s fiscal year 2013 budget. How many of those medical needs can be connected to smoking is unclear. Another proposed $376 million would go to health care for correctional officers. Molendorp says all of that approximately $525 million dollars in inmate and employee healthcare comes from general revenue.
Molendorp says 26 other states have come up with plans that have worked. “(They) have an intake process that informs the inmate under our care, custody and control that it will be a tobacco-free environment. Florida went to it. Their penal system is much larger than ours. Cass County does it.”
He says he knows the issue is emotional and controversial. “But at some point, we need to acknowledge that this is a public policy that shouldn’t just be changed for the sake of change but it is a true financial management issue. We have failed to control costs in an area where we can’t identify a factor that will begin to blunt that cost explosion.”
Lobbyist for the Department of Corrections Andy Briscoe told the Committee cigarette sales in prisons generates $5.7 million annually. “Those funds are kept within the Department of Corrections and used to fund various educational programs, spiritual programs and recreational programs at our facilities.”
The Corrections Officers Association testified against the bill. Lobbyist Harry Hill says the idea would make tobacco products a “black market” item. “There will be cigarettes in (the prisons), and then it become a much more precious commodity. There will be more fights, more disruption, more instances where corrections officers are put in peril because they have to break up fights or spend a lot of time searching for the cigarettes.”
University of Missouri School of Medicine researcher Stan Cowen supports the bill and says there is little evidence supporting the argument that stopping smoking will make cigarettes a valuable “black market” item. “When surveyed in 2007, 51 of the U.S. Departments of Corrections reported no violence or riots associated with the transition to stricter tobacco policy.”
Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles) told Molendorp his proposal raises another idea. “Should we maybe extend the non smoking rule to everyone who takes any form of state aid? Because people on Medicaid … we don’t tell them they can’t smoke but yet we are paying for their health care just the same.”
AUDIO: Listen to the Corrections Committee discussion of HB 1136.