KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It may seem like a cruel April Fool’s joke, but Missouri prisoners will wake up this April 1 to news they can no longer smoke. Missouri's Department of Corrections has been working for months to avoid a potential Easter rebellion.
Smoke-free Missouri prisons are required after a prisoner who was originally sent to death row for strangling two women complained about second-hand smoke.
“This was a case you just don’t win," one of his Kansas City attorneys, Michael Foster, said of the federal jury's decision.
Ecclesiastical Denzel Washington had his death sentence reduced to life in prison. He argued his exposure to second-hand smoke as an asthmatic was cruel and unusual punishment.
As a result of the lawsuit, all tobacco products including chewing tobacco and vaping devices will no longer be sold in prisons. They also can’t be used anywhere on campus by inmates guards or visitors. Visitors and corrections officers will have a designated smoking area off of prison property.
“That’s pretty tough because I’m sure some of those people that’s a vice that they keep that really attaches them to the outside world," Jeff Pottorff said.
“If someone wants to smoke they should be able to," Karen Billingsley said. "If you are going to dehumanize these prisoners to point that they can’t do that, I think if they are outside and haven’t been bothering anybody it should be fine."
But Washington’s attorneys found 95 percent of Missouri inmates smoked. They also discovered designated areas don’t work for inmates restricted to cells the majority of the day.
Missouri's 22 prisons affected by the ban have provided inmates and guards smoking cessation classes and started selling nicotine patches instead of cigarettes in the weeks leading up to this weekend’s ban.
Foster said some inmates have tried to file lawsuits to stop it from happening.
"There’s also concerns from the staff and people up the chain that work at the Department of Corrections," Foster said. "I’m concerned with what’s going to happen also, but Kansas did it; the federal government did it. There’s going to be growing pains with this, but it can be done and has been done in the past, and it’s good for the state of Missouri, and it’s good for the prisoners in the long run, too."
Washington won’t be around to see those potential benefits. He’s already been transferred out of state for his safety. He could find out in a couple weeks if he’ll get the $111,000 he was also awarded in the lawsuit, which is under appeal.