Healthy prisoners

According to this article from the Wall Street Journal, prisoners are using pouches of mackerel as an alternative currency in prison. Mackerel, of course, is high in essential fatty acids and generally considered to be good for you. Maybe the prisoners will actually eat more of it, but the article says this might be unlikely.

Why is mackerel being used? Because the prison system outlawed cigarettes. So prisoners now don’t smoke and they’re getting lots of good fish. Great. When they all get out, maybe they can set good examples for the rest of us. Next thing, let’s require prisoners to use only renewable energy, organic, locally grown foods (except for the mackerel!), and treat each other nicely.

Of course, beyond the snarkiness here is the notion that the federal government has made a presumably rational decision to prevent prisoners from smoking, authority that the FDA apparently doesn’t have [need to find link to recent court case – any help?] and that our state attorneys general have given up on, choosing instead to allow more smoking in exchange for big budget boosts in the form of settlement payments, the portion that wasn’t siphoned off by friendly plaintiffs’ lawyers engaged by the various states, that is.

I’m sure someone in the government decided the issue based on health costs; how long until health care companies charge differently along the smoking dimension, the way life insurance companies do? Or will they be prevented by state regulation from discriminating against people who undertake uniformly unhealthy activity? After all, no one argues that smoking is healthy anymore, right? And other “unhealthy” things, like eating fast food, are certainly perceived to be too small of a part of our health to be condemned in isolation.

What will we do when all the prisoners (overall, not just federal: about1% of our population) get out of prison as non-smoking healthy people? Maybe they’ll impose daily exercise requirements on us.