Prison's Booming Tobacco Market
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Tobacco products, outlawed in the federal prison system since 2005, have become the most coveted contraband item behind bars. With a profitability that rivals illegal drugs, and far less severe penalties for those who are caught, more prisoners and guards are willing to take the risk to smuggle them inside. "It costs 40 books of stamps [valued at $6 each] for a pouch of Bugler [rolling tobacco]," a prisoner tells The Fix. "You can get 80 roll ups out of the pouch and sell them for a book each. That's $240.00 for a pouch of Bugler, that costs around $2.00 on the street." Not only is the profit margin staggering, but the penalties for getting caught with tobacco are much less severe than for harder drugs. "Why would I hustle dope or weed, when I can sell smokes and make just as much money?" the prisoner explains. The Bureau of Prisons uses a uniform disciplinary system where "series shots" of 100 and 200 are issued for high category offenses, and 300 and 400 are issued for moderate to low rule violations. "If I get busted with a pouch, its only a 300 series shot—the same as if I get busted for stealing vegetables out of the chow hall," the prisoner says. "But a 100 series shot for drugs is the same as if I stabbed someone." Tobacco moves fast inside, because "everybody smokes," the prisoner says. And most corrections officers, many who also smoke themselves, will turn a blind eye to cigarettes. "I mean what's the big deal?" says the prisoner. "It's tobacco, it's legal. They used to sell cigarettes in here."