Arizona sheriff makes prisoners pedal for TV privileges

Innovative approach to inmates' exercise - but there's no room for slackers

by Simon_MacMichael   April 7, 2010  

Arizona (copyright Wing-Chi Poon:Wikimedia Commons).jpg

A lawman in Arizona who is nicknamed “America’s Toughest Sheriff” is making prison inmates work for the privilege of watching television by getting them to pedal to generate electricity to power TV sets in jail.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa jail was inspired to launch the quid pro quo initiative after visiting Tent City Jail and discovering that half the inmates there were obese.

Reasoning that you couldn’t force inmates to exercise to help reduce their weight, he figured that the incentive to watch TV, described as the prisoners’ favourite pastime, would prove hard to resist.

His proposals were outlined in a press release issued on April 1 with the heading ‘Reality of April Fool’s Joke?,’ challenging the media to decide whether he was being serious or taking them for a ride. Well, it turns out that he was deadly earnest.

According to the press release, “Arpaio had his staff customize a stationary bike that, when pedaled generates 12 volts, enough electrical current to power the 19 inch tube television inside the Tent City television viewing area, where females inmates are housed.”

Turning the cranks for one hour equates to an hour’s worth of watching TV, and Arpaio, who has built something of a reputation in the United States for his forthright and often controversial views,  says that there is no room for slackers. "If an inmate slows down and fails to pedal fast enough, an audible noise sounds off to warn inmates that the TV is shutting down," he said. "Peer pressure will have them pedalilng, at least right up to the commercial breaks."

Presumably the TV isn’t entirely powered by the pedal-pushing inmates. Last December, in a preview of a BBC One show, ‘Bang Goes The Theory: Human Power Station’ the Daily Mail revealed that according to Electric Pedals co-founders Colin Tonks and Tim Siddall, a typical person using one of their electricity-generating bicycles would achieve a power output sufficient only to power one lightbulb.

“An average human can maintain 40 to 50 watts for an hour,” said Tonks, “whereas someone like record-breaking Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong could maintain 400 watts for a couple of hours, which could provide adequate power for an electric drill or a 42-inch plasma screen with games console.”