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Idaho Prisons Join Smoke-Free Trend New Ban Will Apply To Prison Staffs As Well As State’s 3,000 Inmates

Idaho will ban smoking in its prisons in one year, and all new prison buildings will be smoke-free immediately.

The state Board of Corrections made that decision Nov. 3, sending ripples of dismay through Idaho’s prison population.

“A very high percentage of this population smokes,” said Idaho State Correctional Institution warden Joe Klauser.

The ban applies to prison staffs as well as the state’s 3,000 inmates. It bans all forms of tobacco, including chewing tobacco.

Klauser said rumors had been circulating in prison that smoking would be banned as of today. So the news that the ban is a year away came as something of a relief.

“They have a year to think about it,” he said.

The decision came as the American Cancer Society gears up for its annual Great American Smokeout on Thursday, when millions of smokers nationwide will quit for 24 hours. Gov. Phil Batt, who held a news conference Tuesday to proclaim the Smokeout, said he is pleased with the prison smoking ban.

“They’re charged with keeping their prisoners healthy,” Batt said. “I’m supporting it.”

Jim Spaulding, state corrections director, said his department is concerned about skyrocketing health care costs for inmates, along with complaints from prison staffs about being required to work in smoky environments.

Spaulding has a committee working on a plan for putting the smoking ban into effect. It will look into counseling, stop-smoking classes and the like.

Utah has made its prisons tobacco-free, Spaulding said, and Oregon will do so at the first of the year. “It’s the trend.”

Washington has not moved to ban smoking in its prisons.

American Cancer Society staffer Kim Peterson and volunteer Charles Schmidt were thrilled to learn Tuesday of the Idaho decision.

“Anything that can be done to help people quit smoking is very, very important,” said Schmidt, whose mother died of cancer.

Idaho already has some tobacco-free prisons, Spaulding noted, including the new women’s prison at Pocatello.

That has raised issues of fairness. The state has been involved in litigation for years with the American Civil Liberties Union over providing prison conditions for female inmates that equal those offered male inmates.

“The ACLU was saying ‘you let the men smoke, so you need to let the females smoke,’ Spaulding said.

Jack Van Valkenburg of the Idaho ACLU said if the rule were different for men than for women, that could be a constitutional issue. But he said his organization has no objection to an outright ban on smoking.

Most Idaho jails are smoke-free.

The most immediate effect of the decision will come in two months when Idaho’s Maximum Security Institution will complete a 200-bed expansion. That new housing unit will be tobacco-free right away. The same rule will apply at an Idaho Falls work center coming on line in February and a 100-bed prison expansion in the works in Orofino.

The National Institute of Corrections lists 12 states, not counting Idaho, that have banned smoking or are looking into bans.

, DataTimes

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