Blog or Not?

A statistically improbable polymath's views on politics and culture.

Sunday, February 01, 2004
Cruel? Not really. Harmful to Health? Maybe.
Over at Crescat they've been discussing Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik's proposal for prison reform:

Given the opportunity, Michael would like to change one aspect of prison life to increase the safety of the people guarding them. Instead of allowing them to lift weights and exercise several hours per day (making them violent AND powerful), Michael would require them to remain in bed all day for the first month, and twelve hours per day after that. This lack of activity would allow their muscles to atrophy, making them helpless couch potatoes incapable of inflicting very much violence on each other, the guards, or unsuspecting citizens should they manage to escape. Michael also likes the idea of requiring them to submit one book report a week, encouraging them to strengthen their minds instead of their bodies.

Will Baude claims this punishment can't be classified as cruel--how painful is it to lie in bed all day? Admittedly, for a college student--especially here--this sounds pretty sweet. Besides, everyone agrees that letting hardened criminals pump iron for hours on end is a bad idea; Al Franken facetiously suggested replacing prison gyms with "mandatory step aerobics to Ace of Base". (Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, I don't have the book here so I don't have the page number, 1996 I think) But is the solution really to keep these guys sedentary for a month?

We all know that when astronauts return to Earth after months in orbit most of them can't walk for a couple of days--their muscles have atrophied in zero gravity because there's none of the natural resistance training most of us unconsciously get when we drag our bodies along in the motion we call "walking". Of course, the astronauts try to compensate for this by performing resistance exercises using springs and suchlike, but it was still seen as quite the accomplishment when Shannon Lucid walked out of the space shuttle under her own power after breaking the world record for longest continuous period in orbit. Of course, Mr. Badnarik is hoping for this muscle atrophy. But what are the health risks involved in staying sedentary for a month? I'm not sure, but considering that the prison pays for inmate healthcare, I wouldn't want to find out.

I do like the book report idea, though. We need to increase literacy, and this seems like the only way to actually force people to read. And there's an entire universe of similar, low-cost, slightly kooky ideas for increasing the rehabilitation aspect of prisons--I'm personally partial to spraying lavendar mist around to calm people down and using feng shui in interesting ways.*

*I'm actually halfway serious about the lavendar--it can't hurt to give it a shot.

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