Tobacco products would become prison contraband under a bill being pushed by Lafourche Parish Warden Alan Abadie, but a New Orleans lawmaker stepped in with concerns last week and the legislation was temporarily shelved. House Bill 23 by Rep. Damon Baldone, D-Houma, would add "component hardware of telecommunications equipment" to the definition of items prisoners are not allowed to have. According to the legislation, that includes subscriber identity module cards, also known as SIM cards, other portable memory chips, batteries and chargers.
"The prisons are having problems with people smuggling things in other than cell phones, but that are related," Baldone says. He also floated an amendment on behalf of Abadie to include basically every form of tobacco product, from cigarettes to snuff. The state already has banned smoking inside housing units and is in the process of endorsing a plan that would ban it practically everywhere else. "We would like to include it specifically as contraband," Abadie says. "At our facility, people smuggle it in, throw it over the fence and there are trustees that try to bring it. We don't allow it, but the judges won't call it contraband."
He adds that the ban has caused some inmates to sneak off for a smoke, "and they're hiding matches and trying to get a spark by rubbing (electrical) wires together." Baldone voluntarily deferred the bill until a later date so he could address some committee members' concerns that the proposed penalties for possessing tobacco products might be too stiff. "It concerns me that bringing tobacco products into the jail could possibly get you zero to five years," says Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, a former prosecutor. Baldone and Abadie say one possibility might be to make the offense a misdemeanor, but nothing will be set in stone until the legislation's next hearing. — Jeremy Alford