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What Is It Called When Prisoners Get To Go Outside?

Nobody wants to go to prison. The thought of getting stuck in a cell is not something people like to spend their time on. Fortunately, that isn’t true all the time. Prison life is hard. So once in a while, prisoners can get out of their cells to enjoy the fresh air.  If you’re now wondering what is it called when prisoners get to go outside?, the answer is Yard Time.

What Is The Yard?

The outdoor area where prisoners can spend time and enjoy the sun and fresh air is called the yard, which needs to be large enough to house the number of inmates who will use it in a given amount of time to walk around and exercise.

The yard also needs the right facilities like a place to rest, shelter to protect against the elements, exercise equipment like a basketball court. And, if possible, a view of vegetation.

Why Is It Important For Prisoners To Go Outside?

Forcing someone to stay inside a cell for the duration of their sentence can be detrimental to their mental and physical health. That is why prisons include yard time in the activities prisoners can join. Some prisoners can spend most of their time indoors without natural light and fresh air. So, going outside can be a nice change of pace.

One hour of open-air per day is enough for prisoners to get exercise, relax and socialize with other inmates. Or spend time alone if they want since sometimes there are two prisoners in one cell.

Who Can Participate in Yard Time?

All prisoners have the right to go out in the yard and enjoy the fresh air. But the level of access can vary between different types of prisoners and those housed in other prison areas. This is because prisons will have different parts with varying facilities, like the segregation unit or prison hospital, which can sometimes have a smaller or no yard at all.

The difference in access can also be due to security or disciplinary reasons. For example, high-security prisoners in maximum prisons, those serving life sentences with limited or no time for outdoor activities, or in disciplinary units will have stricter regimes.

But despite the varying access, the prison administration has to ensure that they have taken all measures for prisoners to have a one-hour minimum to go outside, including those who have severe punishment or are under segregation. For example, the prison management can make rotations on prisoners who need extra attention from security and let them go out in shifts. 

How Is A Yard Supposed To Operate?

Ideally, the prison administration has to ensure that the yard is a safe environment for outdoor activities. So prisoners can perform genuine recreation and move around freely. This means providing adequate security and supervision through sufficient staff watching and CCTV surveillance. 

Prisoners with varying categories (like sentenced and pre-trial or sentenced prisoners or soft and hard regime prisoners) must not mix to promote a safer environment.

The prison administration will also need to separate male and female prisoners inside the facilities and during yard time.

Yard time for young people and children in prison is part of their activity program to meet their welfare and developmental needs. They have the right to have a suitable amount of outdoor exercise. So prison staff ensure that all young people and children can enjoy yard time. The prison administration will even offer remedial physical education and therapy (under medical supervision) to children who need it. Others give them unhindered access to the yard during the daytime with some activity schedules.

If a prisoner has disabilities and can’t go outside on their own, prison staff will help them and take measures to ensure they can have yard time like the others

What Can Happen During Yard Time?

Unfortunately, not everything above is true for some prisons. Although inmates can go out to enjoy the outdoors and leave their cells, danger and trouble are not uncommon during yard time. It’s the only time of the day when prisoners can interact with others. And 200-250 prisoners can occupy the yard at any given time with only two or five officers looking out and supervising.

Even with weapons, correctional officers cannot oversee everything happening in the yard, which is essential to keep a safe environment. Officers will even conduct random searches during yard time. And as you may have guessed, prisoners don’t like this. So officers have to constantly remind them that it’s nothing personal and that they are just doing their job to ensure that nothing wrong happens on their watch. 

Prisoners who have committed violent crimes against other staff and other prisoners will still receive one hour of yard time. But will have to spend their time alone with no contact with other prisoners.

And while yard time is for prisoners to enjoy the outdoors, some prefer not to go out. That is because they are afraid of getting bullied or getting into trouble. For example, prisoners set on being released from prison are at risk when they go out in the yard. There are times when other prisoners get jealous of them. So they try to get them involved in trouble to extend their sentences. But it’s not only other prisoners they are afraid of since they might also get into trouble with prison staff. 

There is also the problem of corruption. Some prisoners will pay prison staff to spend more time outside. And those who can’t will only have limited access to the yard or won’t have any at all.


Yard time is one of the privileges a prisoner has the right to have, besides education and other recreational activities. Without yard time, the impact of prisoners on their mental and physical well-being would be detrimental. But it does come with problems due to poor management and corrupt prison staff. So if you notice something wrong with the prison, contact the authorities immediately. Who knows, you might save someone from a horrible situation.

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