$200 Smokes at NYC Jails? What a Ripoff.

How much would you pay for a cigarette in jail?

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New York City officials have been waging all-out war on tobacco in recent years, pushing price hikes and proposing higher minimum purchase ages. But even at $10.50 for a single pack—the latest proposed citywide hike—you’re talking a steal of a deal compared to what some are reportedly paying for as many cigarettes behind bars.

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Citing a Bronx District Attorney source, the New York Daily News says a pack of cigarettes now goes for up to $200 in New York City prisons. Not that a pack’s supposed to go for anything these days: New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration imposed a ban on smoking in city jails back in 2003.

But that’s apparently created a highly profitable black market for nicotine-laced contraband, culminating in 85 arrests since January 2012, and 20 so far this year. Just last Thursday, a deliveryman was apparently caught “sneaking” four bags of tobacco into the city’s primary jail complex, Rikers Island, on a truck loaded with produce — Freeman claims it was all his, but investigators say he was planning to sell it to inmates. Whatever the case, at $200 a pack, you’re talking $2,000 a carton, i.e. “nice work if you can get it.”

How much for a single smoke? Try $30, according to Daily News jail sources.

Correction officers have stepped up their game, despite the extra workload, employing dogs to locate contraband like tobacco and other drugs, but staffers are usually exempt from the searches, shielded by union arguments that they shouldn’t be subject to the same regulatory strictures as inmates.

That said, busts are up 40% since 2010, though tobacco accounts for just 16% of the total number.

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