Bicycles in Prison

I love the wonderful ideas and projects that my PhD bicycle research uncovers. Today, I was reading about the many ways that bicycles are used in prisons.

Time, space and access are factors that constrain prisoner bike use (funding too of course!). However, this does not necessarily mean that the positive impacts of cycling and bikes are necessarily reduced. By this, I mean that for most people, having access and time with a bicycle usually means going for a ride, which is obviously not possible for people who are incarcerated.

There are a few inventive prison programs where inmates can still use, work with, and ride bikes that are not based on riding the bike on road or trails.

Below are three examples from today’s readings.


  1.  Santa Rita do Sapucai Prison (Brazil)

According to a report in the Jornal Nacional, the Santa Rita do Sapucai prison has a policy that prisoners can reduce their time in jail by generating energy by riding stationary bikes. If they pedal for 16 hours, their sentence is reduced by a day.

The energy produced by riding the bikes charges batteries that are taken to the closest city to power lightbulbs. The prison started with only two bikes. But the voluntary program has been so popular, that the prison will soon have 10 bikes to deal with the high demand.

Reports indicate that good behaviour is up and that prisoners are fitter. What a great way to break up the daily monotony and encourage more positive outcomes … all this plus generated power for local community use.

Bicycles in Prison. 5th April, 2018Image: BBC

2. Rimutaka Prison (NZ)

This prison trialled a 100-bike recycling program, where inmates repaired second-hand bikes that have been donated by the community. The refurbished bikes were prioritized for community members who previously had no access to a bike.

Aside from the beneficial recycling and community side of this venture, working on the bikes also provides a fresh change from the usual prison work and routine,  as well as providing useful technical skills that inmates can then use once they get out to help their families or get work.

Bicycles in Prison. 5th April, 2018Image: Rimutaka Prison instructor Aaron Jeffs, left, volunteer Jorge Sandoval and a prisoner in the Community Bike Recycling project.

There are a number of prisons that have a similar program to Rimutaka’s.

Like this heartwarming story from Westgate Prison (Bermuda),  whose inmates last year refurbished some bikes to give local disadvantaged children for Christmas. The video below is the final ‘award’ presentation of the bikes.

3. Pedal Vision in Tent City Jail (USA)

To achieve this, stationary bikes were rejigged to generate 12 volts of electricity, which will run a 19-inch TV. An hour of pedalling equals about an hour of TV time. Prisoners sign a contract so that only those who agree to pedal, have access to the inmate-powered TV.

No pedal, no TV.

Bicycles in Prison. 5th April, 2018Image: CBS News

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