Columns

2014.03.05 Electronic cigarettes: a jail's best friend?

on . Posted in Nowhere Road

It’s not easy being in law enforcement these days, especially if you work in Detroit. Police officers are among the city employees forced to take a pay cut due to the city’s financial woes. According to an Associated Press report, even some criminals are sympathetic to the police situation.

The AP talked to one officer who said,  “When they saw us take a pay cut, they were in shock. We were arresting guys and they were like ‘I can’t believe your city would do you like this.’” The officer added, “It’s just funny because I don’t like communicating with a person who has just committed a robbery (about) how sad my life is.” 

That does seem a little strange, but at least he has a job while the person he’s arresting is going to jail. Maybe Detroit police could take a lesson from some other towns on how to make crime (or criminals, at least) pay.

Many smaller police departments around the country have found a new revenue source to help them balance their budgets as well as aid in managing their prisoner populations. According to the New York Times, more and more rural jails are selling electronic cigarettes to inmates.

Most jails and prisons ban traditional cigarettes both for health reasons and the potential fire hazards they present. Electronic cigarettes are considered safer by some because while they still contain nicotine, there is no combustion so they lack the tars of regular cigarettes. Plus, some in law enforcement like the calming effect the electronic cigarettes have on difficult prisoners.

“The thing I like about it is it controls the guy,” said Sheriff Millard Gustafson of Gage County, Nebraska, adding “We had four or five fights last week. One guy who’d had a fight asked for an e-cigarette and it calmed him down. It’s not meant to help inmates, it’s meant to help my guys.”

Gustafson stated that an initial order of 200 e-cigarettes for his 32-prisoner jail quickly sold out. “I look at this as something to control their moods. If they’re not a good boy or girl, I’m going to take them away, just like I do with the TVs.”

Sheriff Mark Gammons of Macon County, Tenn., said he hopes to earn $20,000 to $50,000 from e-cigarettes during his current budget year, money that he wants to go toward pay raises for his jail guards. His jail buys the e-cigarettes in bulk for $2.75 each, then resells them to inmates for $10.   

Another financial benefit to jails was expressed by Byron Satterfield, the chief deputy sheriff in Macon County, who said that because the e-cigarettes have a soothing effect on many prisoners, fighting between inmates has been reduced, cutting the number of trips made to the hospital to treat injuries. “The cost of fixing a broken nose is $2,000,“ Satterfield said, adding, “so I figure we’re saving the county some money.”

Because of the potential sales that could be generated in the country’s jails and prisons, manufacturers are now producing what they call a “jail-safe” e-cigarette, one that is made out of plastic rather than the civilian metal version that might be used as a weapon by inmates.

Meanwhile, in Texas, one armored car company is stepping up efforts to keep cash inside their armored vehicles, where it belongs. It hasn’t been that easy recently in Houston, where 11 armored car robberies in 2013 accounted for a third of the entire nationwide total. According to The New York Times, the bad guys got away with the money in four robberies.

GardaWorld, a Canadian-based company, transports about $5 billion each day in North America. To cut down on Houston robberies, the company now has three-person crews and chase vehicles with additional armed guards following their trucks. And it’s open season on robbers.

Last year, one GardaWorld guard shot and killed a gunman. Another guard who was shot during an ATM robbery fired several rounds into the getaway vehicle while his partner shot one of the suspects. Yet another opened fire at a group of armed robbers. One GardaWorld official said, “We’re letting the bad guys know: We’re going to defend ourselves.”

It sounds like things are getting pretty tense in Houston. Maybe everyone should just chill out with an e-cigarette. Besides, the jail could probably use the money.

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