Center County Correctional Facility Needs Outdoor Recreation
People incarcerated in our county jail – Center County Correctional Facility (CCCF) – never have outdoor recreation. Unless an inmate goes out on work release, he never goes out, period. They never feel the sun. Because the cellblocks’ small windows are opaque, they can’t even see the outside. Imagine for a minute what that looks like.
The lack of vitamin D, which the sun brings us, has serious mental and physical side effects. The biological clock is off. Sleep patterns are disrupted. This is inhumane and unacceptable in our community where we embrace restorative justice, redemption and rehabilitation.
In the late 1970s, I advocated for outdoor recreation at the Earlier County Jail behind the Bellefonte Courthouse. This prison commission decided to respect the standards. They hired more staff, provided inmates with access to the law library, family visits and outdoor recreation. The outdoor recreation area wasn’t huge but it was mostly outdoors.
Four decades later, in 2018, I once again found myself before the county prison board arguing for outdoor recreation. Indeed, when the CCCF opened in 2005, the prison board allowed the construction of the new prison without outdoor recreational facilities. It’s a wonder because outdoor recreation was and is enshrined in Pennsylvania law.
The minimum requirements for outdoor recreation in county jails established by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) state:
(1) Prisons shall provide all prisoners with at least 2 hours a day of outdoor physical exercise, weather permitting. In case of bad weather, each detainee must have 2 hours of physical exercise a day indoors.
(4) Inmates on disciplinary status or in segregation will be provided with one hour of outdoor activity 5 days a week. (Title 37 § 95.238)
State CCCF inspections by the DOC have, thus far, given our prison a pass on these requirements – but why? CCCF’s recreation facilities consist of relatively small interior spaces with a garage door like window high up on an exterior wall. Sometimes this window is open.
The law states that inmates should have “daily physical exercise outdoors” and, if the weather is bad, “each inmate should have 2 hours of physical exercise daily indoors”. The opposite of “inside” could be nothing but “outside”. An open garage door above hardly constitutes an “open-air activity” (1) and even less an “outdoor activity” (4).
The prison board ignored me in 2018. Sadly, four years later, they continue to ignore the need for outdoor recreation at CCCF, even though more citizens than me are speaking out. Search the Center County YouTube channel online to access prison board recordings from April, July, September and October of this year, when local citizens raised concerns about it.
SCI Rockview and all state prisons and most county jails have outdoor recreation. Rockview’s treatment director often granted inmates with special treatment needs an “extra yard”, which meant that instead of the minimum two hours of outdoor recreation, they received four hours. He said: “The more time in the yard, the less trouble there is in the block.”
According to the American Correctional Association, there should be no punishment in our jails and prisons beyond taking liberty. The CCCF imposes cruel punishment. The county prison board has been silent on genuine outdoor recreation at CCCF.
The DOC says Center County can build recreation parks if it chooses. The DOC does not prevent outdoor recreation. It is the prison board that prohibits outdoor recreation.
The cost of outdoor recreation at CCCF pales in comparison to the damage inflicted on our returning citizens, their families and our community.
Marie Hamilton is the founder of CentrePeace and co-founder of the Center for Alternatives in Community Justice. She served as area representative for the Pa. Prison Society and criminal justice reform representative for the Middle District Church of the Brethren.