Billings favors tobacco rule repeal
by Chance Wright
Oct 17, 2012 | 3611 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When the Mississippi Department of Corrections announced last December that it would go tobacco free at all buildings, grounds and prisons operated by the agency; they did so knowing that the process would be daunting.

The movement, which was not initiated by the state legislature, came about as a cooperative effort between the Mississippi State Department of Health and the MDOC.

"Implementing this tobacco-free policy within the MDOC system will help minimize illness and chronic disease in inmates, thereby reducing the need for the inmate population to seek medical treatment," said State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier.

"Additionally, MDOC staff will have the advantage of improved working conditions and ultimately improved health. Overall, the state of Mississippi will benefit from decreased healthcare cost as a result of this policy."

On Monday, Bolivar County Supervisor Preston Billings questioned the program.

"I am getting quite a few letters and phone calls from inmates and their families," he said after the board accepted Warden James Moore's report. "We were in a meeting in Tupelo recently and I spoke with MDCO Commission Christopher Epps pertaining to the smoking situation."

Billings said that during that conversation he asked the commissioner whether or not there was an appeals process to the tobacco free rule that could be taken by the people of this state on behalf of the inmates.

"He told me that there was no way that it was going to be appealed," Billings continued. "I told him then that I objected to the rule and he told me that as of now it would take an act of the legislature to overturn it."

Billings went on to say that in spite of the comments made by Epps that he was still in favor of the inmates of the state of Mississippi having access to tobacco products.

"Now I understand that no one on the grounds is allowed to have tobacco," said Billings. "But, for the record, I want it to be known that I am in favor of the tobacco free rule being repealed."

Other states, like California, have led the way in making their correction facilities tobacco free and in doing so, tobacco products have continued to climb to the top of the list of contraband being introduced into the systems.

Moore told the board that since the MDOC's policy change went into effect, that they have confiscated a large amount of contraband.

"As many of you are aware, we have had a couple of shakedowns over the past couple of weeks," said Moore. "During these shakedowns we have successfully confiscated about 16 pounds of tobacco products and eight cell phones."

Moore explained that some of these items were found outside of the facility while others were found on inmates' persons and around the yard. He also said that people who are trying to get the contraband into the facility are getting more creative.

"Just the other night, I think Friday, someone threw a basketball full of tobacco, cell phones and other contraband," he said.

He then said that at some time in the future that he would approach the board of financial support in possibly building another perimeter fence to thwart future efforts of introducing contraband.

Moore said that while it was a learning process that he felt that the entire facility staff was doing a great job of enforcing the policy and keeping the contraband of the facility grounds.

The Mississippi Department of Health said that cessations programs are being made available to facility employees and the inmates in custody.

"MSDH and the Mississippi Tobacco Quitline are providing tobacco cessation information to MDOC staff on the effects of tobacco use and the benefits of being tobacco-free," said Currier.

"MSDH is also collaborating with the ACT Center for Tobacco Education, Treatment and Research to develop a treatment program tailored for the inmate population. This treatment program will enable healthcare providers at the MDOC to provide tobacco cessation treatment for inmates needing assistance with quitting."