In a move designed to reduce health risks and keep living spaces cleaner, the Montgomery County Detention Center will soon become the third correctional facility in the Washington area to ban smoking.
Starting Sunday, the inmates and staff at the county jail and the work release center will gradually be weaned off cigarettes, cigars and pipes over three months, Claire Gunster-Kirby, spokeswoman for the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, said yesterday.
Currently, inmates can light up in most of the jail cells. Department workers can smoke in their offices.
But on April 14, smoking will be banned at both Rockville facilities, said Gunster-Kirby. Inmates caught later with tobacco face lockdowns and loss of privileges or time off for good behavior, she said.
The new policy was announced yesterday to the jail's 655 inmates and about 50 people in the county's work-release program, Gunster-Kirby said. About 300 correctional officers also were notified, she said.
Most inmates are not upset about the new policy, said Faye Chatmon, an inmate and president of the 29-member Inmate Advisory Council. "There will be some people who won't like it, but there is not a lot we can do about it."
A nonsmoker, Chatmon, 34, said the smoking ban will reduce health risks and help keep walls, vents and ceilings cleaner.
Inmate Dwayne Jennings, 31, a former three-pack-a-day smoker, said the new policy may help him quit entirely. "I'm down now to one cigarette a day," he said. "It's the health trend of the future."
Montgomery officials decided to implement the no-smoking policy after studying similar programs in Fairfax and Prince George's counties, said Gunster-Kirby. Fairfax pioneered the idea locally in August 1989, and Prince George's County converted its jail last June.
Correctional officials in those two jurisdictions cited several benefits of smoke-free jails, including fewer fires, reduced medical leave, improved air quality and the virtual end of an underground inmate economy that traded cigarettes for food, telephone time and to settle gambling debts.
Under Montgomery's phased-in policy, the jail canteen will stop selling tobacco products and matches by March 24. From then until April 13, inmates will be allowed to consume their remaining packs.
Capt. Robert Orr, a Prince George's correctional officer, said jail officials there worried about crabby inmates and staffers on the first day of the smoking ban. "Actually, it went real smooth," Orr recalled. "It worked out better than we had anticipated."