Do Prisoners Lift Weights?

No, but they can watch all the yoga videos they want.

By Brian Palmer

Inmates at Chino State Prison. Click image to expand.Inmates at Chino State Prison exercise in the yard The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that crowding at California prisons constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and ordered the state to reduce the number of inmates by more than 30,000. An outraged Justice Scalia dissented, noting that many of the released prisoners "will undoubtedly be fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym." Do people really get super-buff in the slammer?

Not anymore. It’s true that most state and federal prisons had extensive collections of free weights and weight machines through the 1980s, and that inmates could spend significant portions of their days bulking up. But that all changed around 20 years ago. As stories about prison gyms spread in popular culture, they became an increasing source of public concern. Some shared Scalia’s worry that muscle-bound ex-cons would be even more dangerous after their release, and legislators across the country responded. In 1996, an amendment to an appropriations bill expressly prohibited the federal Bureau of Prisons from purchasing "training equipment for boxing, wrestling, judo, karate, or other martial art, or any bodybuilding or weightlifting equipment of any sort." Many states, including California, made the same decision, either by statute or policy. These days, whatever free weights you’d still find in U.S. prisons are decades old. (These are often chained to the walls, to deter thieves and prevent inmates from beating each other with barbells.)

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