Friday, January 24, 2014

Rural and urban go separate ways on e-cigs, which county jails are selling to inmates to raise revenue

Timothy Williams reports for the New York Times today from Lafayette, Tennessee, under the headline, "In Rural Jails, E-cigarettes are a Calming Vapor."  They are also, according to the study, a money-maker for county law enforcement budges.

Here's a summary of Williams's story:
[A] a growing number of sheriffs say they are selling e-cigarettes to inmates to help control the mood swings of those in need of a smoke, as well as address budget shortfalls, which in some jails have meant that guards are earning little more than fast-food workers. 
The trend stands in contrast to restrictions on e-cigarettes approved in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and other big cities. County jails in at least seven states have permitted the sale of a limited selection of flavors of e-cigarettes to inmates. They have quickly become one of the most sought-after items in jail commissaries. And although federal prisons ban e-cigarettes, the inmate market has so much potential that Chinese and American manufacturers now produce “jail-safe” versions made of plastic instead of metal.
Sheriff Mark Gammons of Macon County, Tennessee (where Lafayette is the county seat) reports that an e-cigarette costs the jail $2.75 but can be sold to an inmate for $10.  Each is good for about 500 puffs, or about three and half packs of combustible cigarettes.  Gammons hopes the e-cig sales will add between $20K and $50K to his budget this year.  Sheriff Gammon says he will use the revenue to give jail guards a pay raise.  They currently earn $10.58 an hour, but barely take home minimum wage after taxes, he says.  

Macon County is nonmetropolitan, with a population of just over 22,000.  Lafayette's population is 3,885.

Williams also quotes the sheriff of Millard Gustafson of Gage County, Nebraska, population 21,806.   
They’ve been selling like hot cakes.  I look at this as something to control their moods. And so if they’re not a good boy or girl, I’m going to take them away, just like I do with the TVs.
I note that in Macon County, where the poverty rate is 23.5%, the sheriff articulates more concern about the  money-making potential of the e-cigs, whereas in Gage County, Nebraska, where the poverty rate is just 12%, the sheriff is more concerned about inmates' behavior.

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