Georgia Prison Commissioner Weight Lifting Article

"Georgia's New Commissioner Wants
Inmates to Dislike Prison"

printed in Criminal Justice Newsletter Vol. 27 No. 2. January 16, 1996. Pages 4-5.

Georgia's new Commissioner of Corrections, J. Wayne Garner , has announced that he intends to mold the Department of Corrections according to a new philosophy: If the prison experience is unpleasant enough, when inmates are released they will not wish to return. Hard work and exercise will be two means of accomplishing that goal, the commissioner said in remarks to state legislators this month.

"We have 60 to 65 percent of our inmate population that truly want to do better, but there's another 30 to 35 percent that ain't fit to kill, and I'm going to be there to accommodate them." Commissioner Garner said.

"When they get out, they're not going to want to come back. That's our mission statement." Mr. Garner told lawmakers in his first public address since taking office last month.

Accordingly, regional prison directors this month received a memorandum ordering them to place all able bodied inmates in work programs. "Inmate idleness is a concern and a problem." the memorandum said. "Work assignments should be as meaningful as possible. However, all work assignments, however insignificant are encouraged. Any work such as digging large holes or ditches then filling then in, only to dig it up again, planting trees, digging ponds, digging stumps, clearing land, etc. , is acceptable."

"Excuses will not be accepted or entertained." the memorandum warned.

Commissioner Garner told the legislators he does not intend to mistreat inmates. "Please don't misunderstand (the work requirement) to mean that inmates are going to be abused," he said. "Work is not abuse. The alternative has been sitting around the prison all day."

When asked about ways to reduce the number of lawsuits filed by inmates challenging their conditions of confinement, Garner said, "I hope with my work program they'll have less time to practice law."

Garner also ordered that all physically able general population inmates be required to walk four miles a day. Other recreational activities should be allowed only after inmates have completed their four-mile walks, a memorandum to regional directors said. The walking should be considered a "wellness" program designed to reduce the costs of providing medical care to inmates, Garner indicated.

Gov. Zell Miller , who appointed Garner to the top prisons post, last year ordered that weight-lifting equipment , which he considered an unneeded privilege, be removed from the state's correctional facilities. The new correction chief agrees. "Inmates do not need to lift weights," he said . "We're not looking for Mr. and Mrs. America. We're looking for people with strong hearts and great lungs who don't cost so much to keep up."

At the same time, however, Garner rescinded a ban on smoking in state prisons, saying it resulted in a black market for cigarettes. "You did not stop smoking inside prisons: you raised the price of cigarettes to $20 apiece," he said. In the future, inmates will be allowed to smoke in certain outdoor areas.

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