CNN Prison Weight Lifting Special


22 April 1994




04/22/94 CNN Morning News Headline :

Provision to Eliminate Weights in Prison Is Debated


Abstract : A prison reform advocate and a Congressman debate a provision in the crime bill which will eliminate weightlifting equipment for prisoners. Points of contention include prisoners' vs. taxpayers' rights.

Topic(s) : Bodybuilding, Prisoners, Prisons, Weight lifting

Format : Live Report; News; Domestic

Guests : MARC MAUER, Prison Reform Advocate (LIVE); Rep. PETER BARCA (D-WI) (LIVE);


Transcript # : 940012812


LEON HARRIS, Anchor: Joining us now with opposing views on this weightlifting issue are Marc Mauer, a prison reform advocate with the sentencing project who's in our Washington bureau this morning, and Congressman Peter Barca of Wisconsin. He joins us from the House Gallery. [interviewing] Good morning, gentlemen, thanks for coming in.

BOTH: Good morning.

HARRIS: Mr. Mauer, let's begin with you. You disagree with this provision, as I understand it. Why?

MARC MAUER, Prison Reform Advocate: Well, I think it's a classic case of trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist. I've been working in this field for about 20 years. I don't know of a single documented case where it's been alleged that a person's committed a violent offense when he was released from prison that was somehow aided and abetted by his weightlifting in prison. If you look around the country at who's supporting this kind of proposal, it's not the prison wardens who support it, it's not the police chiefs who support it. It's only the members of Congress that are worked up about this, and I think frankly that it's just their effort to provide a quick-fix solution to crime and violence, and the sad fact is there are no quick-fix solutions to this problem. Banning weightlifting is not gonna do a single bit to make our streets any safer than they are right now.

HARRIS: How do you see that Congressman Barca?

Rep. PETER BARCA (D-WI): Well, I couldn't disagree any more strongly. First of all, he is not accurate. There are many law enforcement associations that supported Congresswoman Pryce's efforts and those of us in Congress that strongly supported this. The Law Enforcement Alliance, the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers as well as the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, California Police Officers and many victim witness groups also very strongly supported this amendment. The point behind this is that basically, why should the taxpayers provide taxpayer-subsidized state-of-the-art weightlifting room for prisoners? There should much more of an emphasis put on libraries, on getting them to exercise their minds and their conscience for the crimes that they've committed and trying to get them to develop skills to become productive citizens for those that are gonna get out again, and for those that are not going to get out again, they should be focusing on work and hard labor in order to repay their debt to society and help to provide for the costs that the taxpayers are providing to keep them in prison.

HARRIS: Congressman, how about Mr. Mauer's point about there not being any research that suggests that just because these guys are lifting weights that they're actually out doing something wrong, and their weightlifting is actually helping them crimes?

Rep. BARCA: Well, as a matter of fact, part of the reason that led to Congresswoman Pryce's effort was that you mentioned in the last year in the Lucasville Prison where they used bars to break through concrete stairwells. Just a couple weeks ago there were 15 correctional officers injured at the Rykers Island prison when inmates hit two officers over the head with a 50-pound weight. And the person that initially brought this to her attention was a police official in Ohio who had wrestled with a prisoner who had just recently been released and who grabbed him by his gunbelt and threw him through a drywall panel and cracked his head open, and he felt very strongly that he had been benefited through the weightlifting and weight training programs that they had in prison.

HARRIS: How about that Mr. Mauer? How about that?

Mr. MAUER: I think the most obvious cases of violence that take place in prison are violence by one prisoner against another often with a homemade knife in prison. If guards are threatened, it's by prisoners throwing things they already had in their cells, making homemade knives, things like that.

HARRIS: But you've got to believe that if a man is in such fantastic physical condition that he's gotta feel at least some sort of confidence if the idea does occur to him to do something to a guard and that would encourage him somewhat, wouldn't it?

Mr. MAUER: Well, you know, we've gotta think what is the reason for having these programs in the first place? The idea is that you can't just keep an inmate sitting in a cell 24 hours a day for the length of his prison sentence. You've got to give him some opportunity to let off some steam, to feel good about himself, to keep himself in shape, because after all, 95 percent of these inmates are getting out of prison sooner or later, whether it's a year or it's in 20 years. It's in everybody's interest that these inmates feel motivated, feel good about themselves so they're more likely to lead a legitimate lifestyle when they come back in the community. If we just keep taking away all sorts of privileges, we could take away basketball courts and running tracks because they might learn to run and jump better and then elude police. But we don't do things like that because we want to make sure they're law abiding, not that they continue their criminal careers.

HARRIS: Congressman, what about the point being made that some 75 percent of those who are in prisons are there because of nonviolent crimes? Are you suggesting that that lifting weights is going to make them violent? Rep. BARCA: Well no, I do not believe that lifting weights in and of itself would make them violent, but the point is is there are other forms of exercise that they can get without having to have the taxpayers provide expensive state-of-the-art weight lifting.

HARRIS: For instance?

Rep. BARCA: They're in there to repay a debt to society. They should be working. They should be contributing in that manner, and they should be exercising their minds and their conscience so that they can develop themselves so that they can be better prepared to reenter society for those that will and for those that should not reenter society such as violent and repeat offenders, they should have very few privileges of any kind. They're there because they have greatly wronged society, and they should know that people throughout America are just tired of violent behavior and we will not tolerate it anymore.

HARRIS: So you propose to remove all recreation? Rep. BARCA: No, that is not part of the amendment at all. I mean, in all prisons there's courtyards where they can run, where they can do calisthenics and they can get whatever kind of exercise of that sort that they desire. But the point is is should we be providing this kind of weightlifting equipment.

HARRIS: All right. The debate will go on. Gentlemen, thank you very much for talking with us this morning.

The preceeding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked for errors, in order to meet rigid distribution and transmission deadlines, it may not have been proofread against tape.

(c) Copyright 1994 Cable News Network. All rights reserved.


(c) 1994 Research Publications International All rights reserved

Back to Media Coverage of the Issues

Back to Issues Menu

Back to Weight Lifting in Prisons Menu

Back to Strength Tech Home Page