Electronic cigarettes help fund Darlington Co. jail

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - The Darlington County Detention Center is seeing benefits from the electronic cigarettes that are behind bars.

The Darlington County Detention Center was the first in the state to allow inmates to smoke electronic cigarettes, but nationally, many jails are jumping on board because of the benefits they bring to jails.

"I was skeptical at first. E-cigarette -- what is this saying, and is it really something that's going to be beneficial to us?" asked Sheriff Wayne Byrd of Darlington County.

That's what Sheriff Byrd was thinking eight months ago, when the idea of allowing inmates to smoke electronic cigarettes first came along.

The Darlington County Detention Center had historically been a non-smoking facility, mostly to keep inmates from using cigarettes and lighters as weapons, but people tried to get them in anyway.

"[Inmates] smoke multiple packs a day, it's hard to get them to quit, so it was a big problem with people trying to sneak [cigarettes] in," Byrd said.

Because more people were sneaking contraband into the prison, and the state cut funding for the jail, Darlington County decided to get creative and solve two problems at once.

"The big thing is it cuts down on the contraband. People try to smuggle cigarettes and lighters and things like that into the facility,"said Byrd.

"The ones that we use now, they don't even look like a cigarette and they're soft," Byrd said.

Cross Bar, the company behind the product, is run by a correctional officer who, back in 2012, was looking to bring more revenue into his jail.

The company developed the e-cigarettes out of the soft, plastic, relatively harmless material, and is now on track to bring Darlington County an extra $15,000 this year, money that must go back into the jail.

The funds will go towards "mattress, blankets anything they might need, and when we can make that money somewhere else; we don't have to use tax money to buy those items," said Byrd.

Detention Center Warden Major Mitch Stanley said he's even noticed fewer inmate fights since the e-cigarettes were rolled out.

"Once we started the e-cigarettes and they could get their nicotine fix, they calmed down," said Major Stanley.

In some cases, the cigarettes have actually helped some people quit smoking.

"It actually has made a lot of people stop smoking, because they have used it as a deterrent, and some people who were heavy smokers have actually stopped and no longer buying the e-cigarettes," said Stanley.

The Detention Center here makes right around $5 for each e-cigarette, and the more they sell, the less taxpayer money they have to use to run the jail.

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