Where is the logic in restricting prisoners’ access to exercise?

The Mail reports today that the government is to "end the cushy life in prison" for British inmates, who will apparently be denied access to television and the gym. "Instead offenders will start their life behind bars adhering to a spartan regime, wearing prison uniform and having to earn any perks," the Mail adds.

The Mail reports today that the government is to “end the cushy life in prison” for British inmates, who will apparently be denied access to television and the gym.

“Instead offenders will start their life behind bars adhering to a spartan regime, wearing prison uniform and having to earn any perks,” the Mail adds.

“Only by hard work or study will they be allowed television, full access to the gym, the right to wear their own clothes and to be able to spend the money they earn in the prison shop.”

Is restricting access to exercise really the way to reform the prison system? Or is this simply a cheap populist trick to try and draw voters away from UKIP?

Exercise is one of the most valuable ways a person can spend their time, both prisoners and ‘civilians’. Not only are things like boxing and weightlifting good for releasing aggression, but as the Prisoner’s Education Trust puts it, “sport can be a useful ‘hook’ activity with which to engage prisoners who are initially reluctant learners”.

Contrast the expected announcement from Chris Grayling that “perks” such as gym access “shouldn’t be a given” with this, again from the Prisoner’s Education Trust:

“The gym at HMP Wandsworth is a typical gym but with a notable difference. While other prisoners pump weights and run on the treadmill, sitting on one of the benches away from the main activity is a teacher. Rather than teaching sports and fitness though, she is a literacy and numeracy skills tutor helping a prisoner called Mike (all prisoner and ex-prisoner names in this report have been changed). Mike explains how he avoided the prison education department ‘like the plague’ as he struggled at school due to dyslexia. He was, however, a keen boxer and so when he was sentenced to custody he spent a lot of time in the prison gym. It was here that he saw other prisoners sitting with the tutor doing work. He was intrigued and soon enough the tutor had persuaded him to start working through some learning tasks with her whenever he was in the gym.”
In other words, as well as being a way to release aggression, the gym can be a gateway to basic learning, which in turn will equip inmates better when they are finally released.
The prison population in Britain is over 86,000 and rising. Forty-three per cent of prisoners are repeat offenders, in and out of prison for much of their lives. Cheap stunts such as this latest announcement simply entrench an already failed policy for the sake of a few favourable headlines.
Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.