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Should Inmates Have Access to Weights & Gym Equipment?

(Editorial from May, 2004 followed by visitor commentary)

The defendant, whose build can best be described as somewhere between scrawny and gaunt, is asked by the judge to stand for sentencing. He and his attorney comply. The judge hands down a ten year sentence at a location to be determined by the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Corrections. The defendant disappears through a side door between two sheriffs officers.


Twenty-two months later the officer who arrested the above defendant is handling a

 first aid call on a front lawn when he sees a figure approaching on a bicycle. The bike stops at the next house over, and the figure gets off. The officer recognizes the subject but from where. Then, the face flashes in the officer’s mind. The last time he saw this face was when it was walking out of the courtroom almost two years ago. The face is the same, but scrawny and gaunt no longer apply. Instead, this subject more closely resembles an Olympic boxer.  (Serving only twenty-two months of a ten year sentence is an issue for another day)

The above scenario plays out time and time again, albeit, with different circumstances. Bad guys go to jail, bad guys get released and the bad guys are now in the best shape of their lives. Their “street juice” is enhanced by having done time, their knowledge of crime technique is enhanced by almost two years with mentors, and their physical strength is enhanced by a daily workout regiment on taxpayer-provided equipment.

The issue of providing inmates with weight training equipment still lingers unresolved in many areas including New Jersey.

One television program addressing the issue had a piece where they were interviewing a corrections officer. The CO explained that having a fitness program served to occupy the inmates and reduced violence in the facility. While we have no statistics backing up that position, it does makes sense. It is important too that we provide CO’s and facilities with resources to keep them safe.

However, after seeing this scenario repeat itself and having to confront these super-criminals, we are strongly opposed to inmates having any weight training equipment accessible to them. 

Law enforcement will be dealing with most of these inmates again after their release. According to the United States Department of Justice, “an estimated 67.5% [of persons released from prisons] were rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years.”

When these subsequent dealings take place, the former inmate is much stronger, much quicker, and much faster, all courtesy of the funds deducted from your paycheck every other week.

If it is not law enforcement who must face these super-criminals, it may be our citizenry who don’t have a belt filled with toys or a radio to call for help.

If a program or programs are needed to replace weight training in order to keep inmates occupied and reduce violence, something should be implemented.  We have to support our CO's.  But, it should not be anything that can further their abilities to commit violent crime.

Frankly, I would rather buy them Sony Playstations than have them spending an afternoon on a bench press.

What are your thoughts?


June 10, 2004

"Weights only serve to put the public and the law enforcement community at further risk once the offender is released.  We need every advantage we can get."

          -Probation Officer, State of NJ, Trenton


June 5, 2004

"Get rid of the gyms and make them go through bootcamp drills like obstacle courses. Then broadcast them on public TV as a reality TV show. Take the proceeds of the show to renovate old police stations and/or increase police officers/COs salaries and benefits. Everybody wins."



June 1, 2004

"The case has been made. Can we change the practice. At age 44 I don't appreciate wrestling with people at 4am. Bring this up in meetings at your local and push for change. A small town cop in North Jersey."



May 30, 2004

"First, I would like to say that I am a NJ State Correctional Officer.  I can't say where I work or my name for fear of repercussions.

I find the idea that inmates have access to weight lifting equipment and heavy and speed bags disturbing, irresponsible, and dangerous.  Any C/O who believes that weight training of inmates is a good idea has never had to face down one of these individuals when they are pumped and pissed off.  I think some sort of hard labor program to fill their days is a better idea.  This would serve to tire them and make them less of a disciplinary problem.  

We should never lose sight of the fact that these individuals have a total disregard for moral and civil law and helping them become more fit for their future crime endeavors is criminal itself.  As long as here in New Jersey we have a be-kind-to-inmates commissioner of the DOC and the ACLU, we must face that our prisons are just a training and fitness camp for super-criminals."



May 27, 2004

"I strongly agree, not only are they becoming stronger and more fit, but what happens to someone's ego when they feel bigger and more powerfull, they now think they can take on the world as well as the next CO that approaches them in lock-up.  This could be the same CO who may only make it to the gym 2 or 3 times a week due to his/her first priority of making a living.

We all know how size and strength fuel your ego and attitude, and this makes a bad environment worse.  The safety of our CO's should be first!"



May 26, 2004

"I agree, take away the weights. That wont stop them from other jail house  type of work outs but it will slow down their results.  It will also take away weapons of choice.  As a C/O, I saw what weights can do when used as a weapon. In the mean time the best thing we could do as LEO's is to hit the gym's ourselves and train hard."



May 22, 2004

"As a former county C/O, when I first started I remember not having a clue why the inmates were allowed CABLE TV. Talking to the Warden one day he explained to me that when he makes his rounds looking into the dayrooms and seeing all those inmates eyes glued to what he called, "the babysitter" was a good thing because having them occupied by Jerry Springer was better than having them completing jumping out of their skin because of boredom. To say the least I still disagreed, I have to pay for the cable in my house that's always going out when the wind blows too hard. I believe we allow inmates way too many luxuries. I am from Texas, and the things that go on hear are unheard of down South. Where I come from, you don't want to go to jail or ever go back if you ever do and that's the way the system should be designed. They shouldn't be allowed weights for any reason, who cares about their health, the ones who committed assault or murder on the outside obviously didn't care about their victims health. Forget about the inmates, what about the forgotten heroes, the C/O's who put up with those bag nasty inmates daily? Corrections was not for me, having to deal with those disgusting animals for the short period of time I was there was enough for me. Going into law enforcement, I am more concerned of the affect that those monsters will have on society when they are released, because in this state most of them will be, and my biggest concern lies for brother and sister officers who will most likely be dealing with them again.

College degrees, rehabilitation? about work farms like Angola, and chain gangs. Let's try to make it so they don't want to be go back to being incarcerated, instead of always trying to think of new things to make our jails and prisons better."



May 22, 2004

"I've worked in Corrections in 2 states for over 4 years, and I have to say that any weight training equipment for inmates is a bad idea. They have nothing else to do but lift weights, and think of ways to hurt CO's. If the powers that be want to keep the equipment for the inmates, then the same equipment and the opportunity to use it must be provided to staff. However, that would do nothing to protect the public once the inmates are released. Where I worked, the inmates would get burned out on crack or crank, then be arrested and do a year or two in prison to get bulked up. It's a cycle I was able to see time and time again."



May 22, 2004

"Being a CO myself, I have seen this played out numerous times.  You see an inmate come in tiny and the next time you see him a year down the road he is huge.  Sure, it gives them an outlet and something to do, but what happens when said monster gets a parole hit, or a Dear John letter and decides to take it out on you?  I say take the equipment away and let them do the hard time it is supposed to be!"



May 16, 2004

"I think the warden who runs a tent correctional facility in Texas is doing it right.  You want physical is a badmitten racquet and a birdie, now go play nice, nice with the other inmates.  No weights plus no gyms equals no larger than life prisoners who are capable of kicking the prison guards asses up and down the halls.  It's that simple, no weights.  Why are we allowing these animals to have access to enhance their abilities to become bigger, faster, stronger and subsequently more efficient at what they do.  They are in jail, not at the spa.  I pay good money every month to up hold a membership to a reputable gym, and do so while not breaking any laws.  They want activities, let them play tidily-winks, or checkers.  These inmates are leaving prisons bigger and badder than when they first entered.  Hopefully, when they re-attack, and they normally do, it will be the loved one of some bleeding heart liberal who thinks they should have the right to work out and express themselves while they are incarcerated.  Just a few thoughts."



May 16, 2004




May 14, 2004

"Let's give them some vocational training like basket weaving to occupy their time!  Playstations are a great idea too, Disney has some great titles!  Utmost, whatever protects the Corrections Officer inside (and outside too) as well as other law enforcement when these miscreants "graduate" is the most important deciding factor as to what to do with them inside."



May 13, 2004

"Although many argue that the use of weights while in prison helps the inmate deal with stress better.  I completely disagree with inmates having access to weights.  Many inmates who try to become fit while in jail do push ups and sit up in their cell because quite honestly they have nothing better to do.  But, by providing them with weights creates an extreme disadvantage to the Officers.  In short no the inmates should not have the use of weights."

          -Jeffery A. Nealis

          -Senior Correction Officer

          -New Jersey State Prison


May 13, 2004

"I have worked in the NJ prison system for over 14 yrs. as an officer and now as a Sgt.  Violent people are violent regardless of weight training.  I have seen inmates that lift weights daily go off and I have seen just as many "soft" inmates go off.  An angry, out of control person can inflict as much damage as he wants to.  If any kind of weapon is available, he will use it no matter how strong he is.  If you take away the weights and give them all Playstations or force them to watch educational programming, he is still violent. If only it were that easy."



May 13, 2004     (Excellent)

"While some may assert that having weight lifting equipment in prisons reduces violence, the potential for inmates to become a greater physical threat out-weighs the benefits. Violence, and the transmission of criminal ideas/techniques in prisons could be reduced by separating gang members, and inmates known to conspire together. Also, inmates must be given something constructive to do besides sitting in their cells and watching TV. Inmates would have less time to conspire if, they had to grow and prepare all of their food. That would also make the inmates dependent upon each other for their well being, and farming without machinery is physically rigorous, therefore giving them the exercise they need. Their tasks shouldn't be limited to just growing food, any activity that requires group effort and leads to a final product that is beneficial to the inmate population is worth looking in to. I would prefer that my tax dollars that are spent in corrections turn convicts into productive members of society, instead of making them more physically and mentally dangerous when they are released."



May 13, 2004

"I totally agree.  Scrap all the weights throughout the entire prison system in the country.  Like we are not at a disadvantage enough already."



May 12, 2004

"The Playstation comment as I scrolled down was almost spooky.  I thought the same thing when I read the "occupy the inmates and reduce violence" part.  How about a deck of cards?  Just pulling the weights out of the jails may not be enough either, some guys on my Dept. used to be CO's in out local jail (Atlantic County Justice Facility) and said they pulled the weights from the inmates and they started lifting trash bags full of water.  Remember the academy when you could barely keep weight on from all that running?  Let's hear it for boot camp.  I'll take skinny and fast over "Prison Pump" in an adversary any day."



May 11, 2004   (Very Well Written Piece)

"Having been a State Corrections Officer, I questioned the policies of allowing inmates to become even stronger than we, who are responsible to try to control them.  At COTA (Correction Officer's Training Academy) we were told, as you reported, that the weight equipment was provided to occupy time, but also to reduce stress and tension, thereby hopefully preventing the buildup of aggression and rage.  Simply, they told us the inmates would be too tired to want to fight.  Is it just me who thinks you gain energy when you work out daily?

I have never believed that we should pay to make the inmates stronger and bigger, nor do I believe that they should emerge from prison with a college degree just like the one I can't afford, better dental care than I can afford, etc.  In my opinion, though, none are as dangerous to Corrections and Police officers, or the general public, as the weights.

We knew they were being "tutored" in tactics, evasion and other criminal skills.  We even have video of inmates practicing to stab an officer while being frisked.  It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that they come out of prison, not rehabilitated, but as better, more efficient  criminals.  Now, when you find them in your house at 3:00 in the morning, and they've just taken a peculiar liking to your wife or daughter, you can look forward to fighting not a normal human, but someone who has eaten almost solid starch and lifted heavily every day for years.  Your chances, I'm sorry to say, aren't that good anymore.

Police officers, look forward to having to deal with people who, armed or not, may push you all the way to killing them in order to go home to your family.  We all know they train for gun takeaways, but now they're five times stronger when they do it.  Corrections Officers, you must deal with them unarmed and outnumbered. 

No way!  For my tax money, close the gyms to the inmates and allow the COs to work out on their breaks.  THEY should be the ones we pay to make stronger. 

If the inmates want to keep themselves healthy and lengthen their lives, I won't stop them from walking a half hour a day, or doing some pushups and sit-ups, but they neither need, nor deserve weight gyms.  Let's follow the lead of some of the western Jails, and bring these animals back to reality.  Jails and prisons are places you're not supposed to like.  Why should they have anything that our troops, living honorably and serving our best interests, don't have?"



May 11, 2004

"As a NJ State Corrections officer myself, I can attest to the double edge sword of allowing Inmates the use of free weights. While it does to a degree give the inmates an outlet to release tension and animosity, other than against another Inmate, or worse yet a Corrections officer. The down side is that when a violent incident does occur the excellent conditioning and strength of the Inmate works against the arresting officers.  I would propose a compromise. There are many conditioning programs that lead towards good physical health and conditioning without the use of free weights which add the bulk and excessive strength). Treadmills, various machines which limit resistance to a few hundred pounds, along with sports such as baseball, basketball etc. all can lead to physical conditioning and work off frustration without excessive muscle mass and strength."

          -SCO Dan McNeill 

          -NJ Dept. Of Corrections, SSCF 


May 11, 2004




May 11, 2004

"I think that it is fair to let some exercise take place in a gym.  But let that exercise focus on cardiovascular exercise in lieu of muscle building exercise. There can be a medium for allowing inmates to exercise while not giving them the free weights to build into Hulk Hogan's while they serve their time."



May 10, 2004

"Let them eat cake! Seriously, continue to have them work their hours away with menial, helpful tasks, such as cleaning the facility, manufacturing products etc."



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