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Weights Banned in California

by W. Wisely

On January 2, 1998, Gregory Harding, Chief Deputy Director of the California Department of Corrections, issued an Administrative Bulletin announcing the end of weightlifting in the free world's largest prison system.

The weightlifting ban includes prisons, Community Correctional Facilities, and camps. According to the bulletin, "[e]ffective February 2, 1998, recreational weight lifting activities are prohibited from all institutions/facilities operated by CDC.

Although weights will be banned, the new policy does not apply to dip bars, pull-up bars, or sit-up boards. The weightlifting equipment taken from prisoners will be used by guards, donated to local schools, or thrown away.

According to the bulletin, the ban will be incorporated into state administrative regulations at some unspecified future date. However, under California law, an agency may only add, amend, or repeal a regulation after publishing notice and holding a public hearing.

The ban on weightlifting will cost California taxpayers millions of additional dollars to take care of prisoners. As life prisoners age without the opportunity for weight bearing exercise, they will lose density in their long bones in addition to muscle mass. This combination will result in an increased risk of hip fractures. The cost for surgery, medication, and physical therapy for elderly prisoners with hip fractures is estimated to top $100,000 each per year.

Scientific studies have shown that weightlifting strengthens the heart muscle and cardiovascular system, thus lowering the chance of heart attack and stroke. The potential cost to taxpayers for medical care, drugs, and physical therapy for older prisoners who suffer a heart attack or stroke will increase the normal yearly tab for incarceration from $30,000 to over $100,000 for each affected prisoner.

Perhaps even more importantly, weightlifting has been shown to reduce stress and violence in prison. Prisoners who lift weights are least likely to be involved in assaults. Nancy Norvell concluded, in a study published in the 1993 Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology , that weight training is an effective means of reducing stress. Prisoners are typically faced with unrelenting stress, and do not have the option of taking a vacation or changing environments.

"Chronic stress leads to frustration and misplaced aggression," said a prison psychiatrist who declined to be identified. "When you take one of the few effective means of reducing such stress away, you are guaranteed to have problems in the population." As one lifer at maximum security Lancaster prison put it, "Lifting weights was my only legitimate release for anger. It was the only thing I had left really. Now I don't give a fuck."

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