OUR FEDERAL TAX DOLLARS should not be used to allow violent criminals to come out of prison even stronger and more physically threatening than they were when they went in.
That is one common-sense premise behind my amendment, recently adopted by the full U.S. House of Representatives as part of an anti-crime package, to prohibit the use of weight-lifting equipment and martial arts instruction for inmates in our federal prisons.My amendment serves two fundamental purposes:
First, it helps prevent federal prisoners from using their time of incarceration to become even more physically dangerous, and second, it works to make federal prison life safer.
I am keenly aware that prisoners used free weights to batter down concrete walls and get at guards whom they took hostage during the 1993 Lucasville Prison riots in Ohio. Nine people died in that episode.
Sadly, too, 25 people were injured during the 1994 Rikers Island prison gymnasium riots in New York, where inmates attacked correctional officers with 50-pound weights.
And the Justice Department tells me that weight-lifting equipment now has been removed from the federal prison in Marion, Ill. - but only after two guards were murdered.
One Ohio woman deserves credit for the progress that Congress is making in this area. She is Christine Long-Wagner, the courageous co-chair of the Victims' Rights Committee of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America.
By speaking out about her own ordeal, she is trying to prevent another innocent victim from suffering the same trauma that she underwent at the hands of a bulked-up former inmate.
She relates a true horror story, telling how she was overpowered and raped in her own home by a predator who had devoted his seven years in prison to weight lifting.
"The vicious animal who attacked me . . . was not much bigger than me, but he was very muscular for a man his size. His `weapon' was his overpowering physical strength, which provided him complete physical control of me during the attack."
Her attacker's strength, she is convinced, was greatly increased by the prison weight-lifting regimen.
Now, I do not begrudge prisoners normal exercise activities to work off stress or keep in shape and maintain health; nothing in the Chabot-Pryce amendment prohibits basketball, for example, or aerobics or calisthenics.
In any case, federal prisoners ought to spend more of their time exercising their minds and devote less time "bulking up" their bodies.
Prison instruction ought to be devoted to reading and writing, not to boxing and bench-pressing.
I take to heart the statement of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers that:
"The creation of super inmates through massive strength conditioning, boxing, and fighting arts programs is a radical departure from any acceptable or reasonable standard of confinement of those who have preyed upon the citizens of this country. To permit these programs to continue is an abdication of the trust we have placed in the hands of those who administer our prisons. The lives of innocent citizens, corrections officers and law enforcement officers are at stake."
Surely a ban on weight lifting and martial arts training is not a cure-all for the problems of crime.
This year could be the year Christine Long-Wagner gets the sensible legislation for which she has worked so long - banning weight lifting and fight training for federal prisoners.