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What do prisoners do all day?

What do prisoners do in jail

What do prisoners do in the yard? What do they do outside? In this article, we’re going to answer these questions and discuss the common activities that prisoners are allowed to do while inside correctional facilities and jails. 

We’ll also compare the US, European, Canadian, and Australian prisons side by side, aiming to shed light on accepted prison cultures in these countries. Read on! 

Sports and Recreation

Inmates around the world have access to various sports and recreational activities. These activities help decrease their stress levels and curb violence within the prison. They can play basketball, tennis, puzzles, billiards, or other recreational activities.

Moreover, these activities promote a healthy lifestyle for inmates. If they’re healthy, the facility can also save on medical costs. On top of that, the activities encourage positive social skills, especially in the case of team sports. Exercise programs also help inmates develop a more positive self-image. 

Recreational activities are important for minors since they help address their developmental needs. The activities are designed to be constructive, diverse, and conducive to social integration. 

Meanwhile, women in prison typically have more limited access to activities since they’re fewer in number. Activities for women in prisons are designed to be more diverse and constructive, with facilities avoiding stereotypical activities like embroidery.


Do prisoners work? Yes. A prisoner’s common daily activity also revolves around working within and around the prison. 

They may work as part of the kitchen staff or as orderlies and custodians. Laundry and cleaning opportunities are also available in some prisons. These work activities help reduce the feeling of hopelessness among inmates. Some private prisons also allow companies to source workers from the prison. 


Inmates also have access to educational materials and activities inside most prisons in the world. These materials and activities help improve their skills. In the process, the inmates become prepared for their return to normal society. 

Common programs available to inmates include reading, math, and language education activities. They can also gain a high school diploma while incarcerated. Computer literacy, anger management, and parenting can also be learned inside the prison. Other programs include residential construction, culinary arts, and automotive. 

Spiritual Activities 

Religious programs are also available in many prisons around the world, with some of them recognizing over 20 religions. These activities help inmates address their spiritual needs. 

Activities include worship services, religious courses, scripture study courses, and prayer services. Many prisons also provide priests and chaplains to assist inmates in crisis interventions and personal crises.

US vs. Europe Prisoner Activities 

Based on common sources and studies, the US prison system is geared toward punishing criminals. In many states, the death penalty is permitted, and life sentences without parole are accepted.

Family visits are allowed within the confines of a prison room, and the majority of states don’t let felons vote when in prison. Moreover, convicted felonies can’t serve on juries in some states. The US also implements strict routines and schedules. Inmates who’ve been used to having their decisions made for them have had trouble adjusting to their freedom when out of prison. 

On the flip side, European countries prioritize rehabilitation and reformation. As a result, the common conception is that prisoners’ daily activities in European prisons — Dutch and German prisons, for example — are more humane. Facilities are also reported to be more modern, ventilated, and heated. 

Many prisoners inside European facilities are allowed to exercise their everyday rights, such as: 

  • Wearing their own clothes
  • Making their own meals
  • Working or attending classes in the correctional facility
  • Being away from the institution to be with their families or seek jobs. 

Moreover, inmates can exercise their right to vote and receive welfare benefits. Many inmates also “report” to prison during the week and then spend the weekend with their families. That way, they can maintain their close personal relationships. 

Germany treats young people as a special category of prisoners. Inmates aged between 18 to 21 are placed under juvenile courts, which can apply juvenile laws if they deem the offender to still be developing morally and psychologically. 

Canadian Prisons 

The Canadian prison system tends to follow the US model, especially when there’s a need for tight security. In high-security facilities, inmates wear clothing issued by the authorities. The prison staff also closely regulates and supervises the inmates’ activities.

On the other hand, as the need for security decreases, inmates acquire more opportunities for formal and informal rehabilitation attempts. Canadian minimum-security facilities have attracted both attention and criticism for the amount of freedom they give to inmates. 

In other words, the Canadian prison system sits somewhere between the US and European models in terms of criminal punishment and rehabilitation. 

Australian Prisons 

Similar to the European model, Australian prisons also emphasize inmate rehabilitation. Prison routines consist of both organized programs and self-development opportunities. On the other hand, facilities also set their own schedules and rules for activities, such as meals, shower times, and lights out. 

Inmates can join self-help groups, too, where they discuss issues like health, drug or alcohol abuse, and religion. Groups may also be a vehicle for inmates to show positive behavior, which lets them earn good points from the parole board. 

Prisoners can order newspapers, magazines, radios, and headphones from the prison canteen. Some low and medium-security units allow inmates to practice arts and crafts hobbies. They can also participate in sports like football and netball, while other prisons have gyms. Gambling is strictly prohibited.

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