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April 21, 2015

Torrens Revell
James Madison University
242 East Water St
Harrisonburg VA, 22801

Dear Warden of Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail,

I am writing to you to discuss the lack of physical activity you provide your inmates in
Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail. I am currently in a prison writing class, which
is a part of the Writing Rhetoric and Technical Communication curriculum at James
Madison University. After being given a virtual tour of the jail by Corporal Reeves in
February, I was informed that inmates are only allowed one hour of physical activity a
week in either an indoor or outdoor recreational facility. I strongly believe that is not
enough physical activity for inmates based on many factors, which I will discuss in this
letter.
As a culture, how can we stress the psychological, physiological, and social importance
of physical activity, yet restrict it among a population that may need it the most? This is
what is happening within our correctional facilities to over seven million of the most
sedentary people in the United States. The standard minimum rules for the treatment of
prisoners, supported by the United Nations, guarantees every prisoner at least one hour a
day of suitable exercise in open air, if weather permits ("Standard Minimum Rules for the
Treatment of Prisoners). This is inline with the United States federal constitutional
requirements of confinement, which states that one hour a day of physical activity is

April 21, 2015

essential in order to meet basic human needs: Undue restrictions of prisoners


opportunities for physical activity may constitute cruel and unusual punishment in
violation of the 8th amendment when they pose an unreasonable threat to the prisoners
physical and mental health (Boston, 166). A consequence of the evolution of the prison
role from punishment to more rehabilitative is that exercise is no longer considered an
optional form of recreation, but rather a necessary requirement (United States Court of
Appeals, Seventh Circuit). This means that your jail goes against federal provisions of
services by failing in providing this necessary requirement. After doing some research
into how this is mandated in Virginia, I discovered that because there is a social day room
in the jail it meets minimum constraints. This may be sufficient to meet law, however it is
not acceptable in regards to prisoners health and wellbeing.

Biomedical knowledge based-research on physical activity is equally important and


applicable to inmates as it is to the general public. As a vulnerable and restricted
population, their right should be advocated for, due to their limited personal power.
Physical activity is vital in maintaining and improving a persons health, through
enhancing cognitive and functional capacity and reducing decline, reducing anxiety and
depression, preventing obesity, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases (Truss, 827).
Exercise is regarded as an indispensable component of preventative medicine, with lack
of physical activity leading to muscle atrophy. This muscle wasting is linked with the
development of many chronic diseases and illnesses such as cardiovascular disease,
osteoarthritis, diabetes, depression and premature death. Limiting a persons opportunity
to improve their cardiorespiratory endurance and muscular strength deprives them of

April 21, 2015

their ability to protect themselves against these diseases. Instilling this lack of care for
their own health can lead to a decreased desire to change and better themselves as people.
Physical activity exclusively benefits prison populations by providing a means of
protection and physical intimidation, reduces feelings of hopelessness, improves sleep,
and is simply a means of passing time and decreasing monotony. The benefits of physical
activity are not solely limited to the prisoner either. Adequate physical activity has the
potential to improve jail operations through decreasing violence amongst inmates,
decreasing health care costs, and improving morale and overall quality of life. As you are
probably aware, a happy inmate is a happy jail.

In a jail setting, recreational activities increase social cohesion amongst inmates.


According to the Prison Service Physical Education Operation Manual: Physical
activity plays an important part in a prison regime by providing purposeful activity and
engagement with prisoners. Physical activity makes a major contribution to the physical,
mental and social wellbeing of prisoners and positively impacts on the good order and
discipline within establishments (Read, 2). In a comparative study on the effects of
weight-training exercise on aggression in 250 adult male inmates incarcerated in the
Texas Department of Criminal Justice for aggravated crimes, it was reported that there
was a decrease in verbal aggression, hostility and anger in the weight-training group
compared to the non-weight-training group. This was attributed to participation in any
voluntary physical activity acting as a catharsis for an inmate, thereby contributing to a
decrease in aggression levels (Wagner, 72).

April 21, 2015

Supporters of prison recreation also argue that recreation is used as a therapeutic tool, and
it may reduce recidivism (Truss, 827). The benefits and skills that inmates obtain from
exercise, such as time management, wellness, stress relief, and anger management, will
assist them in the community as well (Truss, 827). An example of how organized sport
within a prison can have a powerful effect on violence and repeated crime is the Project
Hope Football Intervention Program in Drakenstein Prison, South Africa (Meek, 22).
This is one of the most overcrowded and brutal prisons in South Africa yet they managed
to develop a program that contributed to a dramatic reduction in recidivism. This was
attributed to the development of positive role models and a meaningful alternative to
gang culture through sport (Meek, 22). Prisoners were given an avenue to blow off steam
without resorting to violence. Taking on a program similar to this in
Rockingham/Harrisonburg jail would be worthwhile since most people are serving short
sentences; it could help address the cyclical nature of reoffending before it develops.
Sporting programs similar to this one may also be a step in dealing with the
overcrowding issue within the jail.

According to the Rockingham-Harrisonburg Regional Jail Community Based


Corrections Plan, during June 2014, the Jail was operating a capacity of 204%, making it
one of the most crowded jails in the Commonwealth. It is understood that your jail is
used by the jurisdictions of Rockingham to confine inmates for short periods of time
while they are awaiting trial or processing, or have been sentenced to a year or less,
which somewhat providing reasoning for the lack of amenities, education and
rehabilitation programs. However, between the fiscal years of 2005-2013, length of stay

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in the jail for sentenced inmates increased by 41.5%. This data alone should have
instigated a re-alignment of the jail: extra inmates, fewer staff, and the extra time spend
in the jail leads to further deprivation and neglect. The jail simply is not built to
accommodate them. With the overcrowding there is no longer adequate indoor and
outdoor recreation space for the number of inmates held in the jail. I am aware that your
indoor recreation facility can only hold 21 inmates at a time, the outdoor facility only 25
(Rockingham-Harrisonburg Regional Jail Community Based Corrections Plan).
However, crowding and lack of staff does not provide penological justification for lack of
exercise (Boston, 166). Exercise is a basic human and should be treated with the same
urgency as food, water, and shelter in jail.

Throughout the semester we have had guest speakers come into to speak with our class
about their experiences within the prison system. One man who came to speak with us
had spent some time in Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail and claimed that it was
the worst jail he has ever been in because of its bare minimum approach to prisoners.
In regards to exercise, he described how if the weather was not favorable, their one hour
of exercise was often cancelled completely. If they were lucky they would be placed in a
840 square foot room that had a volleyball net in it but the roof was not high enough, nor
the space large enough, to play a proper volleyball game. Information provided by the
Jail Exchange website states that inmates in the Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail
are allowed at least one hour a day for exercise ("Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional
Jail Inmate Search). During the virtual tour of the jail, Corporal Reeves stated that one
hour a week of exercise was allowed, a number which was confirmed by our guest

April 21, 2015

speaker. This in-congruency of information is misleading to the general public, especially


to those who are concerned with this issue.
Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail provides inmates with the minimum civilized
measures of lifes necessities. The imbalance between sedentary and active time in your
jail has a devastating effect on the physical and mental health of prisoners, while also
denying the possible benefits exercise could provide in facilitating social control,
reducing recidivism, and lowering health care costs. Viewing exercise as inconvenience
and inconvenient is a dismaying mentality to have. Correctional facilities have the power
to control the amount and type of exercise offered to inmates so changes are possible and
should be a primary concern.

Sincerely,
Torrens Revell

April 21, 2015


Work Cited

Boston, John, and Daniel E. Manville. "Recreation and Exercise." Prisoners' Self-help
Litigation Manual. Oxford UP, 2010. 166. Web.
Meek, Rosie. "International Examples of Sporting Initiatives in Prison." Sport in Prison:
Exploring the Role of Physical Activity in Correctional Settings Routledge
Research in Sport, Culture and Society. Routledge, 2013. 22. Web.
Read, Mark. "Physical Education for Prisoners." Ministry of Justice. National Offender
Management Service, 26 Sept. 2011. Web.
"Rockingham-Harrisonburg Regional Jail Community Based Corrections Plan." Old
South High. Moseley Architects, 20 Nov. 2014. Web.
"Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail Inmate Search." Rockingham/Harrisonburg
Regional Jail. Jail Exchange. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.
"Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners." United Nations Human
Rights. Office of the Higher Commissioner for Human Rights. Web. 21 Apr.
2015.
Truss, Geoffrey, and Wanda T. Hunter. "Recreation Programs." Encyclopedia of Prisons
& Correctional Facilities. Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2004. 827-29. SAGE
Reference Online. Web. 1 Aug. 2012.
United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit. "256 F. 3d 679 - Glen Delaney v.
George Glenn Malone Christopher Hughes Eugene McAdory." Open Jurist. 9
July 2011. Web.

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Wagner, Matthew. "Effects of Weight-Training Exercise on Aggression Variables in


Adult Male Inmates." Prison Journal 79.1 (1999): 72-89. National Criminal
Justice Reference Service. Web.