Embracing a growing trend around the country, the D.C. Department of Corrections has made the District jail a completely smoke-free facility.
The tobacco ban, which took effect Aug. 1, applies to inmates, staff members and visitors at the main jail and two other department facilities, which until this month allowed smoking in designated areas.
"So far, it's going well," said Odie Washington, director of the Corrections Department. "I've not gotten specific feedback, but it appears [the inmates] have accepted the policy."
The department has custody of about 3,300 inmates, with about 2,100 of them housed at the jail. The rest are in halfway homes, which are not affected by the ban, Washington said.
"What I have done is consistent with what many jails have done in the last five to six years," said Washington, adding that he had not imposed the full ban earlier "because of the tremendous amount of staff and inmate activity with the closure of Lorton."
The Lorton Correctional Complex in Fairfax County, which once held most of the District's prisoners, was closed in November 2001.
"A large number of inmates" at the D.C. jail used to smoke in designated sites in the recreation areas, parts of which were outdoors, Washington said.
The department announced the new policy four months in advance and began offering a smoke cessation program for staff members and inmates to ease the transition, he said.
Nicotine patches and gum are available, the director said, but inmates have to pay for them.
The ban applies to the jail, at 1901 D St. SE; the Corrections Department headquarters, at 1923 Vermont Ave. NW; and a Corrections Department location in the District Municipal Center, at 300 Indiana Ave. NW.
The new policy prohibits smoking, possessing, selling or trading tobacco and tobacco-related products in all buildings, vehicles and surrounding public places under the Corrections Department's control.
The dangers of secondhand smoke to nonsmokers have long been recognized, and that was a major reason for creating a smoke-free environment at the jail, Washington said. The new measure is meant to support "an individual's right to a healthy environment."
"We're certainly in line with the rest of the country," Washington said. "I think that it's the right thing to do. It's the way to operate our facilities."
Corrections Department spokesman William Meeks said that because the D.C. jail allows only "noncontact" visits -- in which outsiders are separated from inmates by a glass partition -- it is unlikely that tobacco contraband could be passed to jail residents.
But if visitors defy the tobacco ban, their visiting privileges could be suspended, Meeks said.
Last month, the Federal Bureau of Prisons implemented an indoor ban on smoking at all 106 of its corrections facilities across the country. The federal system houses 180,000 inmates, including many from the District who formerly would have been housed at Lorton.
"So far, it's working fine," Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said of the ban, which went into effect July 15. She said wardens still have discretion to allow designated smoking areas outdoors. But she said she did not know how many prisons had opted for that.
A 2002 study by the American Correctional Association, a trade association representing about 18,000 corrections professionals, found that at that time 24 states had smoke-free prisons and that 14 others had imposed partial bans.