published Monday, May 5th, 2014

Some TN jails allowing electronic cigarettes

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Some jails in Tennessee are again allowing inmates to smoke — only now it is limited to electronic cigarettes.

The Tennessean reports at least five counties, including Sumner, have recently allowed inmates access to the items. Smoking has been banned at most jails for years.

Sonya Troutt, the Sumner County Sheriff's Office's jail administrator, says she thinks the move will cut down on tension and contraband. It also means income for the jail, which gets $5 for each one sold.

"After speaking to some of the other jails, they felt like it had reduced stress levels for some of the inmates, especially some of the smokers," she said. "I just felt like all around it would be much better and hopefully cut down on the smuggling of tobacco products and other contraband."

The jail began allowing inmates to order e-cigarettes on April 11, and inmate Bryan Neuendorf says he has already seen an improvement in the atmosphere.

"You could see an immediate difference," he said. "Everybody talked more to each other, there was a little more laughter. You could see the stress of jail melt away a little bit."

Officials in other counties remain opposed to allowing inmates to purchase e-cigarettes.

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall said he prefers to use rehabilitation or education to pacify inmates.

"I don't see enough reasons to do it," he said.

Alex Friedman, a watchdog on incarceration issues, said he thinks allowing inmates to smoke is counterproductive.

"My personal position is that jails don't need to be in the business of encouraging addictive behaviors," Friedman said. "E-cigarettes deliver nicotine .... and nicotine is extremely addictive. Comparably, jails are not providing alcohol to alcoholics or meth to meth addicts."

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