Prison Smoking Bans

Big-K

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TOPEKA — Three former inmates argued that a prison smoking ban harmed their health, but legislators Tuesday rejected their requests for $100,000 each to compensate.

The Department of Corrections imposed its ban in March 2003, spurring complaints and the filing of 60 legal claims with the Legislature by inmates or former inmates at the state prison for women in Topeka.

Elsa M. Blair, Robbie J. Clem and Constance E. Woods were serving time there when the ban took effect, and all three claimed it created ''an unreasonable risk'' to their health through stress and mental anguish.

The Legislature's Joint Committee on Claims Against the State unanimously rejected their requests for money, just as it has denied others filed over the smoking ban, excluding them from budget legislation to be considered next year.

Several committee members said prison inmates are likely to be healthier because of the ban, not less healthy.

Besides, said Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, ''You give up all kinds of things when you go to prison.''

The Legislature considers dozens of legal claims each year, providing a forum for people who feel wronged by the state but are not likely to prevail in a lawsuit.

Blair, Clem and Woods, who filed written requests for money last year, did not attend the committee's meeting.

Blair served time for theft and was released a year ago, though the state has no record of where she lives now. Clem and Woods were paroled in February after time on drug charges, Clem to Shawnee County and Woods to Crawford County.

In their written requests, each said the smoking ban created stress and ''severe withdrawals.'' Clem said she had trouble getting along with other inmates and gained weight.

''My hair has turned gray around the edges, and I am now biting my fingernails,'' she wrote
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