By Chris Kenning
(Reuters) - A Missouri convicted murderer whose lawsuit forced the state prison system on Monday to announce a ban on tobacco will seek a transfer out of state because of threats from angry inmates, his lawyer said.
Ecclesiastical Washington, who is serving a life sentence for strangling and suffocating two women in the 1980s, recently argued in court that secondhand smoke was harmful to his health and asked a federal judge to force a policy change.
After the court last week prohibited the sale, use and possession of tobacco after April 1, 2018, under a settlement agreement, the Missouri Department of Corrections on Monday said it was sending memos to alert 32,000 inmates to the change.
"Tobacco will become contraband," prisons spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said.
Michael Foster, Washington's lawyer, said threats from inmates who are losing the opportunity to smoke had already forced Washington to move to another prison. Foster said on Monday they would seek to move Washington out of state.
"We're worried about what might happen to him," Foster said.
Washington's years-long legal fight centered around his complaints that as an inmate at the Crossroads Correctional Center, in Cameron, he shared cells with heavy smokers despite having asthma.
Smoking was already prohibited inside the state's 21 adult correctional facilities but allowed in outdoor areas and available for purchase at prison commissaries, Pojmann said. Foster argued at a trial last year that inmates were often found smoking indoors amid lax enforcement.
"He was sentenced to life in jail, not life in jail with constant exposure to secondhand smoke," Foster said.
Foster said the ban on tobacco would not benefit just his client but could also save the state money in health-care costs.
After U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey ordered the state to ban tobacco products late last week as part of an agreement, prison officials said Monday that inmates would be offered smoking cessation classes and counseling. Smoking areas will be provided for staff and visitors outside the perimeter.
Smoke-free policies nationwide in prisons were rare in the 1980s, but by 2007 almost 87 percent prohibited smoking indoors, a 2015 government-funded study found. Tobacco is banned in federal prisons.
"Missouri is among the last states to do this," Pojmann said.
Washington was sentenced to death in 1989 under his former name of Willie Simmons for the 1987 murders of Leonora McClendon and Cheri Johnson, the Kansas City Star reported.
(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Leslie Adler)