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Inmates puffing for profit? Local sheriffs say don't expect e-cigs here

Updated: 01/24/2014 5:47 PM
Created: 01/24/2014 5:00 PM WNYT.com
By: Mark Mulholland

QUEENSBURY - It's expensive to run a jail.

It's typically the costliest part of a county sheriff's budget.

So any time something new comes along to offset those costs, sheriffs are all ears.

County sheriffs in the South and Midwest have reportedly found a jail money maker: electronic cigarettes. They buy them for less than three dollars and sell them to inmates for about 10 dollars.

But local sheriffs say that mark-up wouldn't be allowed in New York where the law says inmates are supposed to get items at a reasonable cost.

Sheriffs where the cigarettes are being sold say they also help control the behavior of the inmates, by calming them down.

Warren County Sheriff Bud York doesn't believe that inmates need rewards to behave.

"Don't give them privileges to make them behave themselves. Make them abide by the rules," he said.

York says the electronic cigarettes are not allowed at any jails in New York and he says it should stay that way.

"So if you bring that thing in there with a battery or however it operates, I think you're going to have a problem and I wouldn't be in favor of it."

Saratoga County Sheriff Mike Zurlo agrees, saying the devices could pose a danger to corrections officers and inmates.

But Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy says if the dangers can be addressed, it would be at least worth looking into.

"If all the information is good and there is no health side effects and it helps with morale or lessening contraband and increases revenue, then it's something we would look at," said Murphy.

According to published reports, some counties in the South are making as much as $50,000 a year by selling electronic cigarettes to inmates.

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