Jails set to take away weights over concerns of steroid use

Recent decision by prison service would limit weight lifting to inmates who test negative, but cost of testing will likely mean prisons close weight rooms entirely

Pumping iron is a popular way to pass the time for inmates incarcerated in the nation's jails, but that could soon end after prisons remove weights from their gyms.

According to Johan Reimann, head of the prison service, Kriminalforsorgen, the decision was made after concerns were raised about the use of anabolic steroids by inmates.

“Our job is to safely transition people away from a life of crime and anabolic steroids do not play a part in that,” Reimann told Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

Last week Reimann sent a letter to jails outlining the ban and the so-called Green Card programme, which would allow clean inmates to continue lifting weights.

Signing up to the programme will mean that the anti-steroids organisation Anti Doping Denmark will make unannounced visits. But, because of the cost associated with the tests, Fængselsforbundet, the union representing prison guards, expected most would just choose to get rid of their weights.

Reimann explained the ban was necessary even though it would affect prisoners who don’t use steroids.

“In prisons we need to create a system to avoid drug abuse,” Reimann said. “We think inmates need exercise but there are many ways of doing so that don’t appeal to drug abuse, such as running.”

Georg Gran, who has been an inmate in Jyderup prison since 2011 and an occasional user of the facility's weight room, was worried by the ban.

“Many people use their time to work out and stay in shape, so it would be a shame if they took it away. All types of physical exercise are important when you’re locked up,” he said, adding that he understood prisons didn’t want to pay for steroid testing.

Bjørn Elmquist, chairman of the legal association Retspolitisk Forening, said the decision was not well thought through.

“They should obviously not tolerate steroid abuse, but instead of removing the weights they should challenge the abuse,” Elmquist told Jyllands-Posten. “It’s possible to train muscles in other ways. Should the inmates also be banned from doing pushups?”

Ole Hækkerup, legal spokesperson for Socialdemokraterne, said he trusted the prison service to know what’s best.

“The prison service has its finger on the pulse and knows what problems there are,” Hækkerup said. “If they think it’s a problem then it’s good they have reacted.”