OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters Life!) - A ban on smoking in prison will be lifted for inmates at Oklahoma's minimum-security facilities next month over the objections of a state legislator who is also a doctor.
"We're short-staffed. Do we want to spend time chasing tobacco around the yards?" Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said.
One consideration for allowing only prisoners in Oklahoma's minimum-security prisons to resume smoking is that most will serve out their shorter sentences before long-term health problems show up and create an added expense, Massie said.
"Unlike the medium or maximum (security prisons) where inmates stay for years and years and years, the health factors would not be quite as significant for people who are processed through the system fairly quickly," Massie said.
Oklahoma's policy, which takes effect August 2, bucks a nationwide trend of prisons banning smoking. Some critics say the bans make the black market for cigarettes more lucrative.
Whatever the rationale, Oklahoma State Representative Doug Cox, an emergency room physician, was appalled.
"For the Department of Corrections to allow smoking is a direct slap in the face to the state Health Department's goal of decreasing tobacco use in Oklahoma," he said.
"Someone needs to remind Justin Jones, director of the state Department of Corrections, that cigarette smoking is the number one preventable cause of illness in Oklahoma."
Writing by Andrew Stern; Editing by Jonathan Oatis