Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Free to Change

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Free to Change

Article excerpt

In a correctional facility setting, recreation has the power to bring inmates into a social setting.

In 1995, I was looking for a new job and wanted to get back to the Omaha, Neb., area. In the local paper, I saw an opening for a recreation specialist at the Omaha Correctional Center. Even though I had never heard of correctional recreation, I applied for the position, got the job and from that point on, my view of recreation was changed forever.

I will never forget the first day I walked into the correctional center and heard the steel door close behind me. It startled me, and once inside the facility, I knew that I was in for a new and exciting experience.

Inmates are not a population that I ever learned about in my undergraduate education, but they should have been. This is a group of people that is sometimes forgotten by the outside world, even though a majority of them will return to society one day.

The correctional setting, though it has its fair share of unique situations, really resembles a small town. Everything that a small town has is somehow offered-they have educational opportunities, jobs, access to medical staff and of course, recreation.

The role of recreation, within the correctional setting, is one of importance. A good recreation program will promote "safety, security and good order of the institutions," according to Bob Houston, director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. The recreation departments help in keeping the inmate population busy with both passive and active recreation that's geared toward all age groups and ability levels.

Houston also states, "Recreation is a necessary program, a fundamental part of the correctional system, just like security and classification." Recreation programs such as the team sports leagues, keep the inmates busy in constructive activities, where they can learn how to get along with others.

Sports In Corrections

The recreation departments have year-round programs that vary in scope from athletic teams, music and hobby centers, to fitness classes and informal recreation. Just like in a regular community setting, a correctional recreation department has to advertise around the institution to let inmates know what programs are going on and when registration starts and ends.

Some of the activities that are typically found in a correctional facility are:

* Softball

* Flag football

* Volleyball

* Basketball

* Powerlifting

* Card tournaments

* Holiday events

* Hobby centers

* Music programs

Along with the above activities, each institution holds different events and tournaments during holiday weekends. All of the adult male institutions in Nebraska participate in a Summer Games competition, where each facility competes in a variety of events, and the staff at the Nebraska State Penitentiary compiles all results. The results are then sent back to the individual institutions, and the inmates can see how they did against other inmates across the state.

The Omaha Correctional Center also sponsors an institution-only Winter Games that lasts from the end of November until the first part of January. Our staff has found that during the holiday times of the year, there can be an increase in suicidal behaviors/tendencies by the inmates. This competition gives them something to think about other than being away from their families, and involves as many of the inmates as possible. Each inmate gets points for competing and placing in an event. When all the events are finished, the recreation staff tallies the scores and a winning housing unit is named.

During a particular sports season in a correctional facility, the recreation staff could have numerous leagues. The two main types of leagues offered are called "Buddy," where anyone can play on any team; and "Housing Unit," where all team members live in the same area. …

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