20/20 Prison Weight Lifting / Weightlifting Special Part 2

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20/20 Prison Lifting Special - Part 2

6 May 1994

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05/06/94 ABC 20/20

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] In many modern prisons, convicts are not kept in isolated cells. They live in big dormitories controlled by unarmed guards like Chris Cola [sp?]. She works the day shift here.

CHRIS COLA: What's up, Billy Ray?

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] She and the other guards don't carry guns because they work too closely with the convicts. It would be too easy for one of them to grab her gun. Prison officials have decided that having the guards in the room is a better way to manage prisoners because the guards can spot trouble quickly.

CHRIS COLA: Come on, guys. Settle down.

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] She can hear if someone's starting to freak out because they got bad news on the phone or if someone's about to pick a fight. Then she can intervene before it gets out of hand. But efficient as this kind of prison management may be, it also means prisoners could overpower the guards if they really wanted to. It's happened often enough. And, since there are more prisoners than guards, it could happen more often. It doesn't, say corrections officials, because of an intricate system of rewards and punishments that encourage prisoners to behave. Weight lifting is part of that.

CHRIS COLA: These guys know that if they start screwing around or if they start getting a lot of violations, they're going to lose the privilege of going down to the gym, so it's an important tool for us to have.

ROGER QUINDELL: What's convenient for the prison industry doesn't mean it's convenient or good for the public at large or for the people who are in here.

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] A number of police organizations have written letters supporting a weight-lifting ban. One reason is that most ex-cons get into trouble again and it's often harder to arrest someone who's been lifting weights.

ROGER QUINDELL: And it makes people big and it makes officers concerned about apprehending someone like that.

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] But perhaps the major impetus for this movement to ban weight lifting is that many people have come to think that prisoners just have things too good. In California, where some convicts have access to movies, cable T.V. in their cells, unsupervised overnight visits and more, there's a movement to repeal the state's `Inmates Bill of Rights.'

TONY ZELINSKY: Inmates have it easier in prison than they- than they should have it.

SHANE COVEL: You get in here. You work out. It feels better. You go back to the dorm and you- you shower and relax.

JOHN STOSSEL: You bring tears to my eyes! You make this place sound like a country club. We're supposed to be making it nice for you?

SHANE COVEL: It's not a country club, it's a prison.

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] Two weeks ago, Milwaukee's county executive vetoed the weight-lifting ban.

F. THOMAS AMENT, Milwaukee County Executive: -a simplistic, feel-good resolution that does not reduce crime or deter crime in any way.

JOHN STOSSEL: [voice-over] But his veto may not matter because state officials are now proposing a ban on weight lifting throughout the state. And other states are debating bans. People are fed up with crime and criminals and they want to do something. It's not clear that banning weight lifting will really affect crime or even save much money, but it's doing something.

BARBARA WALTERS: I don't know, John. You know, there is the other side that says that it's not just punishment in prison, but rehabilitation and getting some self-respect so you come out and try to make your life better. And, you know, maybe this helps that. If you take away weight lifting, what do you give them instead?

JOHN STOSSEL: You know, I don't disagree with that. I was just asking those questions because I think it's my job as a reporter to confront them with what the other side says. But I'm not so sure this is a bad thing. And even these boxing programs and martial arts programs- they make me more nervous, but maybe they give people self-respect and make them less likely to repeat.

BARBARA WALTERS: Is there anything that one could do that would not be dangerous?

JOHN STOSSEL: Well, they argue they should have calisthenics or run laps. But one con said, `What, you want to make us faster? We'll run from the cops.' Purse snatchers are fast.

BARBARA WALTERS: Well, it is something on which there are very strong points of view and you don't need 10-pound weights to know that. Thank you, John.

HUGH DOWNS: Interesting. Thank you, John.

Next- he writes the songs that everyone from Streisand to Madonna loves to sing, a composer who broke the mold of Broadway music. Bob Brown with Stephen Sondheim, the man behind the music, right after this.

[Commercial break]

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

(c) Copyright 1994 ABC News. All rights reserved.

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(c) 1994 Research Publications International All rights reserved


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