Correctional Recreation: An Overview

This page provides a very basic overview of the field of correctional recreation / prison recreation for those wishing to learn more about it. For more indepth information, please see our Correctional Recreation Page.

When most people think about prison recreation, they think of sports. Actually it is much more. First, those in the profession call it Correctional Recreation. Second, it can involve many activities ranging from passive activities (TV watching and movies) to low energy activities (board games, card games, billiards and bingo) to hobbies (ceramics, photography, art, music, leather craft), to sports (basketball, softball, volleyball, weight lifting), to special activities like gardening, pet therapy, calligraphy and many others. Similar to college recreation directors and college intramural directors, recreation supervisors develop and operating recreational activities for those in prisons. They try to increase involvement and participation by more inmates. Some prisons provide a wide range of activities and facilities, while very limited programs are operated at other facilities.

The goals and objectives of correctional recreation are broad. Here are a few borrowed from a 1999 York Correctional Institution Manual:

Most crimes are committed during leisure time. One of the underlying goals of correctional recreation, is that inmates will acquire new leisure skills to successfully re-enter society. Recreation activities include a rehabilitative effect for some inmates and recent research has shown they may also increase the effectiveness of other treatments (substance abuse counseling) when teamed with those therapies.

Correctional Recreation Specialists work with special populations. Since their clients are inmates, they have to understand security and personal safety issues. Many work with the elderly, youth, mentally disabled, and handicapped. They generally only work with ly, youth, mentally disabled, and handicapped. They generally only work with inmates of a single sex (men or women) and some inmates have challenging personalities.

A correctional recreation staff can range from one person performing a few of recreation duties while primarily responsible for another position, to one part time recreation person, to a full staff including a supervisor, several assistants and some inmate workers depending on the size of the facility, budget constraints and the level of emphasis placed on recreation. Equipment (weight piles, cameras, board games, basketballs, softballs, bats, etc) and facilities (jogging track, outdoor rec yards, softball fields, ceramic kilns, photography darkrooms, music rooms, hobby rooms, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, theaters, etc) similarly vary by institution with federal facilities tending to support a wider range of activities.

Correctional recreators work in challenging conditions. They endure bureaucracy and budget problems while rarely being recognized by the outside world Pay is not high, but many find the job rewarding. We salute them.

An excellent history of correctional recreation is provided in Correctional Recreation. ALLReporter. Jan. 1986. Pg. 6. Published by the American Association for Leisure and Education. We hope to post portions of that history here in the future.

Several excellent articles cover the basic types of activities offered and provide an understanding of the environment and issues. We list a few of the best ones that are available online below.

Major Online General Correctional Recreation Articles

Corrections and especially Correctional Recreation currently face significant budget challenges resulting from the shortfall in state and federal tax collections. See our page on state budget cuts and correctional recreation and its accompanying paper, State Budget Shortfalls Impact Correctional Recreation; The View From Both Sides for more information on this problem.

If you are interested in the issue of weightlifting in prisons, please see our List of Issues Concerning Weightlifting in Prisons page.

We also suggest you visit the National Correctional Recreation (NCRA) web site. They are the professional association for those in correctional recreation. We have extensive coverage of several of their annual conferences on our NCRA Page.

Educational Opportunities in Correctional Recreation

A few schools offer degrees or program options in Correctional Recreation> Among them are: Many in the field come from various recreational backgrounds and educations. Some move over from security positions in prisons. If you are interested in entering the field, we encourage you lean more about the National Correctional Recreation Association.

Back to Strength Tech Home Page