The Titus County jail in Mount Pleasant, Texas, has found a way to keep inmates healthier and happier, while also making a bit of extra money to defray jailhouse expenses. They not only allow vaping, but actually sell e-cigarettes in the commissary.
“We did some wide-open brainstorming a couple of years ago, thinking about… how we could be cutting waste and saving money,” says Sheriff Tim Ingram. Their brainstorming was prompted by a region-wide valuation of local energy systems and their costs.
Ingram says that when the idea of e-cigarettes came up, he checked with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, and found that there was no regulation against sale of vaping products. So the idea of electronic cigarettes was seen as a revenue measure at first.
But it wasn't long before another advantage appeared. The jailhouse has been a tobacco-free zone for a long time, so it comes as no surprise that attempted cigarette smuggling has been a problem.
“It was a constant struggle…” says Lieutenant Michael Garcia, a jail official. “You have someone who may be smoking one, two packs of cigarettes a day, and then one day they’re in jail, and they have none. Going cold turkey from a nicotine addiction is hard. Some of them would have withdrawal symptoms.”
Electronic cigarettes have put an end to the smuggling problem, according to Sheriff Ingram. “That problem went away. I’m amazed,” he said. “Overall, it’s been one of the best things we’ve done lately.”
The inmates are “not as nervous and they don’t have to go through withdrawal. They’re a lot calmer,” Garcia chimed in. Ingram adds that inmates are also pleased at the lower costs of e-cigarettes. “One e-cig which we sell for six dollars lasts as long as two and a half packs of cigarettes, I’m told,” he says with pleasant surprise. Another gratifying detail is the fact that the e-cig pictured in the article in Mt. Pleasant's Daily Tribune is a product of an independent company, and not one of the e-cigs marketed by Big Tobacco. So the jail's program is also helping to deter attempts by Big Tobacco to dominate the vaping supplies industry.
Slowly but surely, the idea, which has also been tried in prisons in southern Illinois, is spreading to other Texas jails as well. Ingram knows of two other jails that are trying it.
The jail's commissary earned $11,000 on the sale of e-cigarettes during the last fiscal year. While this hardly compares with the $7 billion Reynolds/Lorillard raked in by selling Blu to Imperial, it defrayed the cost of a new air-conditioning system, which may also go a long way toward keeping inmates happy, healthy, and concentrated on efforts to kick the crime habit, in addition to the smoking habit. Since commissary income may be used for jail improvements, the commissary revenues, with a substantial component from e-cig sales, were able to bring the cost of the cooling system down from $40,000 to $17,000.
Now that's cool!
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