My interview in the Maple Ridge News regarding tobacco prohibition in prison

The following is a story that came about as a result of an interview I did with a reporter from the Maple Ridge News regarding the tobacco prohibition policy in Fraser Regional Correctional Center – the jail I recently emerged from after doing 4 months for herbal offenses.

Below that is a link to an article on tobacco prohibition at Fraser I wrote for Cannabis Culture online.

Maple Ridge News

Prison smoking ban a farce: inmates

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By Monisha Martins – Maple Ridge News

Published: March 18, 2010 4:00 PM
Updated: March 18, 2010 4:56 PM


Tobacco remains readily available in a Maple Ridge prison despite a ban that’s been in place at the facility for nine years.

A former inmate, who left Fraser Regional Correction Centre two weeks ago, calls the prohibition a “complete failure.”

“Fraser Regional is awash in tobacco,” said David Malmo-Levine, who spent four months inside the men’s prison for trafficking marijuana.

Despite pat-downs and random searches, inmates smoke in their cells or washrooms and use tobacco as currency, with “tailor-made” cigarettes costing between $5 and $10 per smoke.

Although he didn’t smoke, Malmo-Levine said he traded smuggled-in tobacco for stuff from the canteen.

A full third of his unit smoked tobacco more than once a day.

He said tobacco gets into the prison many different ways – through prison guards, contractors, even nurses. Sometimes it is thrown over a fence, smuggled in by prison work crews or hidden inside body cavities.

“B.C. Corrections should make allowances for tobacco because it would be far more safe. Right now, non-smokers like myself are being subject to second-hand smoke,” said Malmo-Levine.

“I think it’s time to stop pretending that tobacco prohibition works and to abandon the policy.”

There has been a no smoking policy for inside provincial minimum security prisons since 2001.

A complete ban on lighting up, both inside and out, was put in place at all provincial facilities in 2008. Federal prisons also went smoke-free the same year.

When B.C. Corrections first tried to impose a ban at Fraser Regional in 2000, an inmate challenged the order in court, and forced the province to back off.

A man currently serving a 21-month sentence at the prison has no plans giving up tobacco while inside. He said he smokes at least once a day in his cell.

“The ban hasn’t done anything. It’s just made things more stressful,” he added.

Inmates caught with tobacco in minimum security sections of the prison get penalized by being shipped to the maximum security section or end up in “the digger” or segregation.

“Right now it’s just another way to mess with us,” he said. “I don’t see why we can’t have smoking in here.”

B.C. Corrections recorded 80 incidents involving tobacco at Fraser regional in 2008 and 2009.

Spokesperson Marnie Mayhew said the ban is in place to protect the health of inmates.

Inmates have access to smoking cessation programs like nicotine patches.

Mayhew stressed that corrections staff do everything to make sure tobacco is not smuggled in.

“But there is no environment that is completely risk free. We take all the precautionary measures that we can from a security stand-point to stop the flow of any contraband, including tobacco. It’s for good reason,” she said. “We want to protect the health of our staff and other inmates.”

Tobacco Prohibition at Fraser Regional Correctional Center
by David Malmo-Levine – Friday, March 5 2010

David Malmo-Levine