$100 for a pack of cigarettes. That's now the going rate inside Missouri prisons after a smoking ban created a new black market.
Former high-ranking Department of Corrections personnel tells Fox 2 that Corrections’ Officers are more likely than ever to take the bait. Veteran employees are quitting at such a pace, that the colleagues they're leaving behind are forced to look at prisons as their home.
Former Chief of Custody at Algoa Prison in Jefferson City, Bill Vallier said, “You`re missing graduations, birthdays and things at home. You`re actually spending more time in the institution than with your own family.”
Vallier says he left after his superiors ignored his warnings about staffing. He said inmates are now using the deteriorating working conditions to manipulate corrections' officers. He explained, “You can make a lot of money for something that's not even illegal and some of the officers are falling prey to that, especially the new ones.”
D.O.C. banned smoking in prisons April 1st. It was part of a settlement by the State of Missouri with a double murderer who sued over second-hand smoke.
Bill Schmutz was Deputy Warden at Algoa prison until he retired this summer. He said, “Overnight a pack of cigarettes went from a few dollars to a hundred dollars a pack and there`s staff uh getting caught bringing cigarettes in – sure. It`s the lure of easy money.”
Corrections officers are prohibited from even leaving the prison for a smoke break, while they say prisoners are often not punished for having contraband. This former inmate, whose identity we`re protecting so he can leave behind his past, says prisoners now think they can treat officers better than the D.O.C. The former prisoner told me, “In one week we`ve counted seven corrections officers walk off the job because of the way they're treated.”
Bill Vallier added, “The anatomy of a set up sometimes begins with singling one of the staff out from the herd so to speak. They catch that disgruntled staff member that`s upset, who doesn`t like the way things are going. That`s somebody that`s susceptible to talk to – ‘hey, I can fix some of your problems.’”
Schumtz said it will take years to fix the culture inside Missouri prisons, but he said it should start with raising pay. He said current strategies to drop standards are failing, such as putting 19-year-olds in charge of offenders. Schmutz said, “Career criminals that by their very nature are hard to supervise. They don`t like to go by the rules. The rules don`t apply to them and you`re going to throw a 19-year-old in that? It ain`t gonna happen.”
Several officers told me the smoking ban is also causing more unrest. They say it's already harder to get prisoners to their education programs and recreation because of the staffing crisis, now they say the smoking ban has them monitoring yet another black market.