Television and movies have given us a stereotype of what fitness in correctional facilities is all about. When the storyline takes us inside a prison, the camera pans the “yard” and in the background we always see weight benches and muscled men hefting weights. There is some degree of historic truth behind any such representation, even when done for film drama, but reality can be somewhat different.
There has been, and always will be, a debate on the subject of fitness and sports in prison. On one hand, some will be concerned over whether we are creating stronger and potentially more dangerous criminals. On the other hand, there is some empirical proof, along with anecdotal evidence and opinion, indicating fitness and sport programs as part of the corrections system provides a number of benefits to society.
The cost impact of having generally healthier inmates, with reduced levels of illness, heart disease, diabetes, and other ailments is one of those benefits. Those who have been in organized sports understand the role of such activity in building self-discipline, self-control, and team work. These are skills that are missing in the lives of many young people who turn to criminal pursuits. They may well be keys to helping ex-prisoners cope once they are back in the world and trying to fit in to society.
When I was much younger, I played on a semi-pro football team that played prison teams during pre-season. I was amazed to learn many of my teammates had been on such teams in the past. I never would have guessed it so, being as these men had jobs, families, and showed no obvious appearance of having a criminal past.
When reflecting back on the experience years later, I couldn’t help but think how organized sports, such as football, basketball, or soccer, might have been a part of changing their lives. Sports give an outlet for venting aggression as well as burning off energy. Sports help keep a participant directed toward a positive goal. To stay on a team, one would have to practice anger management and learn team work skills that would be important in holding down a job.
What is Understood: Required Elements of Fitness Equipment
Putting statistical results on such programs may be difficult, but that aside there are a number of issues with fitness activities in a correctional facility that are well understood. Firstly, and most practically, there is the issue of providing equipment that will encourage inmates to pursue fitness but will not provide tools or weapons to those who would seek to exploit such an opportunity. Traditional weight-lifting gear is an invitation to trouble.
Secondly, there is the issue of maintenance and the costs associated with keeping equipment in safe and operating order. Fitness and exercise equipment must be tamper resistant to the extreme. Fastenings must be resistant to removal so equipment cannot be stripped for weapons or tools. Parts must be attached and welded in such ways as to prevent even a group of men working together being able to break them off.
There are manufacturers who understand the needs of correctional facilities and make equipment specifically for that market. One of the better ones is StayFit Systems of Washington State. They feature a full line of bodyweight fitness training gear including their SuperMax line designed and built for the toughest of prison environments.
That firm’s most impressive entries into this market are the SuperMax 10 and the SuperMax 6. Both are impressively engineered and manufactured to stand up to brutal conditions and can be installed in both indoor and outdoor locations.
These fitness stations are hand-welded using thick structural steel and oversized components. They come in a choice of colors and can include tamper resistant hardware. This equipment comes with a 25-year warranty and looks like it could take a beating every day of those years. Not only ideal for the corrections environment, the equipment is a great fit for military, police, and fire department use.
The debate will continue among corrections professionals and public officials. A few things are certain however; physical fitness contributes to good health and therefore reduced costs of incarceration. Physical activity and sport reduce violence and tensions within the prison environment therefor enhancing inmate management. Physical training may well reduce recidivism simply as a result of raising a person’s self-esteem, encouraging self-discipline, and teaching work ethic. Finally; well-designed and tough-built fitness and exercise equipment is a must in the tough world of the corrections environment.