SPRINGFIELD - E-cigarettes are becoming a popular alternative to traditional tobacco products. Two southern Illinois county jails are now letting inmates use them behind bars. But, not everyone is on board.
"We have a commissary that we offer the inmates for things that we don't provide them. They can buy potato chips and cookies, underwear and socks, things like that."
But, one luxury that's not on the list is cigarettes.
"There's enough problems in jails already, fights and gangs and things. If a few people have cigarettes, and the other people wanted them, there's causes for fights there."
Most jails have a smoking ban. Law enforcement says it's a fire hazard, but technology could change that.
Two southern Illinois counties are now letting inmates buy and smoke e-cigarettes. They produce a vapor instead of a cloud of smoke. The jail administrators say adding them to the commissary list has upped morale and reduced violence. But, Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson is skeptical.
"I can see their point in that aspect, but there's always going to be fights in jails anyway."
Plus, he says adding new items is risky.
"They have 24-hours a day to think about how they're going to beat the system you might say."
Inmates could try to use it as a weapon or could swallow the parts for attention. Williamson says everything available in commissary is specially made for jail and staff already knows what warning signs to look for. So, just one new item, means lots of extra work.
"Why would I introduce something they don't have to have that's going to cause more trouble for me?"
Jails using e-cigarettes haven't reported any major issues so far, but Williamson says, if the inmates don't want to give up smoking, they shouldn't have come to jail in the first place.
"It's something they deal with. It's jail. A lot of their freedoms have been taken from them."
Even though manufacturers say e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to normal cigarettes, doctors still don't know much about the long-term health effects. The FDA studied two popular brands of e-cigarettes and found traces of cancer-causing toxins.
Saline and White are the two counties in southern Illinois trying it out. Franklin, Wabash and Williamson counties are considering trying it too.