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Sheriff Removes Hoops from Jail; Donates to Church

Sheriff Removes Hoops from Jail; Donates to Church

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Tampa Bay Tribune via YellowBrix

December 25, 2010

BARTOW, FL – First he switched the jail menu to dish up cheaper food.

Then he changed the TV options to up educational viewing and curb sports and violence.

Now Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is rejecting basketball; he had inmates uproot the jail’s hoops.

“This is a county jail; it is not a gymnasium,” Judd said today. “It’s not some place where inmates can show up to have pickup games of basketball with their thug friends.”

Such moves can have drawbacks, said Don Leach, former vice president of the American Jail Association.

Jail inmates – usually males ages 18 to 35 – need an outlet for their energy and, if left to their own devices, will find things to do, like causing problems for each other or deputies, Leach said.

Taking away privileges such as basketball, he said, also “minimizes the opportunity to positively control behavior. When you take everything away from somebody, they have nothing left to lose.”

Of the 2,000 or so jail inmates in Polk, about 42 percent are awaiting trial. The average jail stay is 21 days, according to the sheriff’s office.

Psychiatrist Terry Kupers, author of “Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It,” said a huge percentage of jail inmates have mental health issues.

“There are very few things in jail for people to do,” he said. “This is a group of people that are in an extreme situation, and you’re taking one more thing away.”

Removing basketball hoops wouldn’t work in the state’s prison system, said Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.

Prisoners serve longer sentences and keeping them busy with recreation and educational and vocational activities helps keep them out of mischief.

“It’s also a disciplinary tool because if an inmate misbehaves, he might lose the privilege to play,” Plessinger said.

Judd isn’t buying worries about a possible rise in violence.

“First off, we didn’t see any indication of that when we stopped them from smoking in the jail, which I think was a much larger issue than not playing basketball,” he said. “And if they want to play basketball and don’t want to be cooped up, stay out of jail.”

He said inmates can still do pushups, jumping jacks or jog “in a little circle.”

Judd, who has been sheriff for six years, said the county jail has had basketball hoops for at least 30 years.

The hoops now are headed to nine local churches.

“We had the option of scrapping the basketball goals at a scrap yard, which would have brought us virtually nothing,” he said. “Or we could spread Christmas cheer.”


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