WEIGHT LIFTING IN PRISON
web site, www.halcyon.com/dante/pap/
A site dedicated to increased awareness of prisons.
Like the rest of the country, Washington State elected some new
"tough-on-crime" legislators in 1994, and they were certainly
busy in the last legislative session.
Despite evidence that the crime problem won't go away by throwing more
prisons at it, the state Legislature has
passed a number of bills they claim save money and "get tough on
criminals" but in fact target programs that don't cost taxpayers
any money (Extended Family Visits, weightlifting, etc.) and get tough
The most atrocious bill passed in the last session was HB2010, the
"Omnibus Prisoner Responsibility Act." The same people who tout "family
values" wrote this bill, which, among many other things, would
end Extended Family Visiting programs, which are often the only way for
prisoners to maintain family ties and parenting skills while locked up.
Anti-crime ignorance and hysteria prompted lawmakers to add sections about weight-lifting, cable TV, and "erotic" materials (they don't like them).
The legislators have gone home for the summer, but when they come back next session you can bet we will be reporting on their prison-related legislation, and we'll provide the telephone numbers you need to make your opinions known to them.
Being a good liberal, I was surprised at my negative reaction to the news that the Clallam Bay Corrections Center will be host to the Washington All Open Powerlifting Championships Feb. 11. We liberals are usually very much in favor of those programs which indulge, pamper or otherwise coddle prison inmates.
At first, I couldn't figure what the problem might be. Was this the first symptom of my new conservatism? Had I joined the choir that sings to the music played by the right wing bandwagon pulled by the Republican steamroller that leads the current political parade?
Worried, I immediately checked by credentials. I discovered I was still opposed to asault weapons, term limits, and the death penalty. I still favored universal health care and free speech. I listened to my favorite Joasn Baez tape and found that I still knew most of the words.
So it wasn't politics. There was something else. The inmates at Clallam Bay were about to enjoy a weight lifting competition, and there was something wrong.
I wasn't opposed on financial grounds. After all, the prisoners buy their own equipment. I called Department of Corrections spokesman Johnson and heard that "the public taxpayer dollar is not being expended for weight-lifting equipment."
So it wasn't the money.
And I wasn't opposed on grounds anywhere near those which so irritate state Rep. Mike Padden (R. Spokane). "It makes no sense to have these people bulk up and gain strength when they will likely get out of prison and commit crimes again," he recently said.
I figured that it doesn't take a whole lot of strength to pull the trigger of a gun, which is where much of our trouble comes from. Muscles do not a criminal make. And besides that they're going to get out of prison anyway, and I've been told that weight training actually improves their chances to rejoin society both gainfully and lawfully.
That's what I heard from Steve Erickson, the recreation director at Cllalam Bay. The power lifting competition, he said, helps give an inmate "discipline and direction."
"A lot of these guys have never been in a structured program." Erickson said. And this program teaches goals, teamwork, sportsmanship, conflict resolution, and self-esteem. The program also helps control behavior inside the center. Competitors, if they wish to remain eligible, must keep their records infraction-free.
"It just makes them less of a problem." Erickson said.
It just makes sense.
Upon his release, I would rather meet a prison inmate who has learned the virtues of teamwork, discipline and sportsmanship than I would an inmate who has spent his term constructing an attitude littered with self-pity, bitterness and anger.
So I figured that Rep. Padden either didn't know the facts, or else he was engaging in that all-to-familiar hobby of political grandstanding. The same goes for Rep. Ida Ballasiotes (R-Mercer Island) of the House Corrections Committee who said weight lifting sounds like something that "is meant to be intimidating to other people." She prefers basketball, which she must believe is gentle, where, in fact, flying elbows and bloody noses are not uncommon.
So it wasn't the program itself, which I believe upon investigation - to be benificial to taxpayers, the prison system, and prisoners themselves. And so I was pleased to hear from DOC legislative liason Patricia Robinson that she has yet to hear of any real legislation being offered to eliminate weight lifting in state correctional facilities.
But there was still something wrong.
Then I figured it out. I finally discovered my own prejudice.
I haven't lifted weights since I was a wrestler, and even then I didn't like it. What good can be said of an athletic endeavor which includes an event called "the squat"?
I've never oiled my body for any purpose other than to prevent sunburn, and I frankly don't know a pec from a lat. The shape I happen to be in is round, and it suits me fine.
The bench and the press, for me, have nothing to do with heavy lifting. As a spectator sport, I find weight lifting about as entertaining as rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming or dentistry.
If anything, to me the whole sport is just plain goofy.
But being a good liberal, that doesn't mean I'd ban it.
The notion that we'll all be safer if barbells are taken our of prisons is a flaky idea flying on the wing of hysteria.
Those in Congress and the state Legislature who believe that pumping iron makes inmates more dangeous when they are released should be asked:
How much strength does it take to pull a trigger?
Rumblings in Congress and the Legislature to do away with or restrict use of prison weight rooms are fueled by shallow symbolism over substance.
Those who bulk up in prison may be stronger when released. There is no evidence they are more violent.
There is no evidence it is a problem of any consequence inside the walls.
"It's more likely that some little guy will sneak up and stab someone in the back," says Department of Corrections Secretary Chase Riveland.
State prison officials can recall only one instance of trouble in a weight room - an inmate assaulting another inmate three years ago at the state penitentiary at Walla Walla.
They say there are no instances of assaults on staff.
That leaves the not-so-unreasonable assertion that weight rooms are cushy frills - things many people on the outside can't afford.
Prisons shouldn't be country clubs. But lifting bars behind bars isn't the same as a saunter to the local health club.
While taxpayers pick up the tab for the recreational staff and building space, weight room equipment is paid for from inmate made money in the prisoner trust account.
Prisons should be places where no one wants to return. Weight rooms aren't wooing them back.
Weight rooms are not a right. They are a privilege. Keep out of trouble and you can use them. Screw up and you lose them.
They are a way of controlling inmate behavior, of relieving stress, of getting prisoners to do something positive. They are an avenue of teaching self-discipline.
Those are qualities that improve chances for those who serve their time to make it on the outside.
While the growing public clamor is for tougher punishment, there has to be some rehabilitation effort to keep the prison door from revolving.
Andrew LeFevre of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America which is leading the charge for weight-room bans, simplifies their purpose by saying: "It's a way for prisoners to get bigger, stonger and better at what they do for a living, which is crime."
If there were no weight rooms, any prisoner who wanted to pound the hell out of fellow inmates or those on the outside could spend all day doing push-ups in his cell.
A bill in Olympia would curtail use of weight rooms, not ban them. It would eliminate recreational use, and allow each institution to have three competitivie weight lifting teams, each with 10 members.
It would also require that team members have a prison job. That part of it isn't a bad idea. But making it a competitive sport is.
That's inconsistent with arguements against weight rooms. What about all the muscles on those competitors when they get out?
Public anger over prison perks is understandable. Prisons shouldn't be comfort zones for inmates. Nor should they - for no apparent reason - be turned into cauldrons of seething discontent ready to explode.
Probably the most effective way to make sure inmates never want to return to prison would be daily torture. Things like tooth picks under the fingernails or a good stretching on the rack. That'd make them think twice.
It would also make the courts jump in against cruel and inhumane punishment.
The need to eliminate or curtail weight rooms is a tempest in a jughouse.
It isn't a solution to getting tougher on crime. It's a meaningless symbolic nod.
There are better ways to run our prisons. Banning the bench press just doesn't happen to be one of them.
The article includes one photo subtitled, "Clallam Bay inmate Crawford uses lifting to improve his outlook."
By Martha Anderson
P-I Olympic Bureau
Educators, farmers, labor leaders oppose it
OLYMPIA - Educators, business people and labor leaders turned out yesterday for a House Corrections Committee hearing, registering objections to legislation that would require the state's 11,000 prisoners to work or go to school full time.
But King County Prosecutor Maleng threw his support behind the measure, calling the Department of Corrections "an entrenched bureaucracy resistant to change."
"If the House and Senate do not provide leadership, we will not have reform," Maleng said.
Maleng said he supports the bill because it enables the state to return to "old values," such as a work ethic and education.
"I can't believe anybody would trim management costs by 20 percent and restrict many privileges now granted to inmates including conjugal visits and free health care. With few exceptions, inmates would be required to be in school or at work eight hours a day. Testimony yesterday was restricted to those school and work requirements.
Specifically, inmates with less than a fifth-grade level education would be required to attend classes full time until they achieve the skills of a fifth grader; inmates between a fifth and eighth-grade level would split their time between work and school; those with an eighth-grade education would be required to work 40 hours per week. The bill would replace teachers with videotapes and instruction via televised classes.
Pierce College President George Delaney, who oversees four prison-education programs in the state, said inmates won't learn the necessary skills without teachers.
"We can't just put packages (books and videos) into cells and expect learning will take place," Delaney said. "What happens when they get out?"
Spokesmen for organizations representing dairy farmers, electricians and building contractors told lawmakers their members are concerned about unfair business competition.
Dan Coyne of the Washington State Dairy Federation said he supports prisons running dairies to provide inmates with milk products. But he does not like the idea of them moving into the commercial market.
'They've take a lot of business away from private-sector companies," Coyne said, citing a recent study that showed the state's dairy farmers have lost business to prison-operate dairies.
Allan Darr of the International Union of Operating Engineers said he was concerned about a portion of the bill requiring 20 percent of construction of new prisons to be done by inmates, Darr said two years ago he fought a similar measure that would have required inmate labor for removing underground tanks and asbestos on public property.
"Driving wages down never brings the economy up," Darr said.
Pep. Ida Ballasiotyes, R-Mercer Island, chairwoman of the Corrections Committee, said she was "undeterred," by the criticism. Ballasiotes also said she was not fazed by a $20 million estimate produced by the Department of Corrections for the cost of implementing the bill's proposed changes.
"It's more than slighly exagerated," she said. "There are cost savings with this bill."
In their zeal to implement the popular will to get tougher with the convicted criminals, state legislators are will advised to exercise caution lest they create serious problems within the state prison system.
A House Republican-sponsored bill would cut prison management costs by 20 percent and curtail such inmate privliges as free health care and conjugal visits while requiring more prisoners to work or attend education classes.
Lawmakers who support the cuts contend that the $26,000 annual cost of housing a convict in the state's 13 prisons is too high. Yet a recent report by the state's Sentencing Guidelines Commission notes that per capita costs have been declining for four years and are near their lowest levels of the last 10 years
. The foremost reason for declining per-capita costs is the fact that the prison population, now at 11,000 is growing at a rate of 15 percent a year due in large part to more punitive and longer sentences. It's estimated the state will need an additional 2,600 prison beds by 1998.
The riskiest proposal is to cut prison custodial and recreational staff. Director of Corrections Riveland estimates the proposal would cost 100 corrections officers their jobs, at the expense of safety to inmates, guards, and visitors. Custodial costs - the salaries of guards and supervisors - account for nearly half the incarceration costs.
It also should be noted, in response to complaints that inmates get too many benefits, that no tax dollars are spent of televison sets, radios or recreation equipment. The money comes from proceeds of inmate stores and vending machines.
Riveland says 55 percent of inmates already work, while 20 percent are enrolled in acadmic or vocational education programs. It would be well for those percentages to be increased but as Riveland point out, new work and education programs require additional equipment and facilities, which need legislative appropriations.
Washington's prisons have been relatively trouble free for many years. Cutting management including custodial staff, while raising levels of inmate discontent and anger by eliminating modest privileges in an environment of already over-crowded conditions, is a formula for big trouble.
Roll Calls on HB 2010
Bill No.: 2SHB 2010
Description: FINAL PASSAGE
Item No.: 12
Transcript No.: 89 Date: 04-07-95
Yeas: 88 Nays: 07 Absent: 00 Excused: 02
Voting nay: Representatives Cole, Dickerson, Mason, Rust, Sommers, Thibaudeau, Veloria
Excused: Representatives Lambert, Schmidt, K.
Bill No.: 2SHB 2010
Description: THIRD READING - FINAL PASSAGE AS AMENDED BY THE SENATE.
Item No.: 23
Transcript No.: 96 Date: 04-14-95
Yeas: 48 Nays: 00 Absent: 00 Excused: 01
Excused: Senator Anderson, C.
Bill No.: 2SHB 2010
Description: FINAL PASSAGE
Item No.: 3
Transcript No.: 25 Date: 05-18-95
Yeas: 90 Nays: 00 Absent: 00 Excused: 08
Excused: Representatives Chappell, Chopp, Dellwo, Honeyford, Horn, Kessler, Mulliken, Patterson
Bill No.: 2SHB 2010
Description: THIRD READING - FINAL PASSAGE.
Item No.: 5
Transcript No.: 29 Date: 05-22-95
Yeas: 45 Nays: 00 Absent: 01 Excused: 03
Absent: Senator Smith
Excused: Senators Anderson, C., Moyer, Schow
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