All detainees have the right to a minimum of one hour outdoor exercise per day. This is crucial for their mental and physical well-being. Suitable facilities should be provided, which are large enough, safe and properly equipped, in order to provide the opportunity for genuine exercise and recreation. There should be no disincentives to outdoor exercise for detainees, such as a lack of shelter from weather, corruption and a failure to ensure the safety of detainees. The prison authorities should ensure all detainees have access to time outdoors, including those under segregation or punishment and detainees in situations of vulnerability.
The importance of outdoor exercise
Outdoor exercise is crucial for the mental and physical well-being of detainees, as part of a balanced regime of activities in prison. This is especially so, given that many prisoners spend most of their time indoors with limited access to natural light and fresh air. International standards specify that detainees should have at minimum one hour in the open air per day. This should provide the opportunity for exercise, relaxation, fresh air and to be exposed to sunlight. Time outside can also provide detainees with the chance to socialise and take part in recreational activities, or spend time alone if they wish.
Right for all categories of detainees to outdoor exercise
All detainees have the right to outdoor exercise. In practice, the level of access to outdoor exercise can vary greatly between different categories of detainees and those housed in different areas of the prison. This is sometimes due to the varying facilities available in different parts of the prison (e.g. certain wings or units, such as segregation units or prison hospitals units, may have smaller yards or no yard at all). Differences may also be justified on disciplinary or security grounds. For example, stricter regimes often apply to detainees in disciplinary units, high security detainees including those in so-called “supermax” prisons, and those serving life sentences, with limited or no time for outdoor exercise. The prison administration must, however, take measures to ensure that all detainees have access to the minimum of one hour outdoor exercise per day, including those under segregation or punishment. This is firstly an issue of sound prison management and properly trained staff. For example, staff may rotate to take a smaller number of detainees who are considered to require extra attention for security reasons to the yard in shifts.
Facilities for outdoor exercise
Outdoor areas, sometimes known as “prison yards” should be large enough for detainees to walk around and exercise, taking into account the number of detainees who will use them at one time. They should be genuinely outdoors, providing the opportunity for a “sunbath” (exposure to sunlight) and if possible in view of vegetation. They should also be fitted with facilities including a place for rest, shelter from inclement weather and some equipment for exercise (for example, an area for ball games). Detainees should be provided with adequate outdoor clothing when taking outdoor exercise.
In practice, prison yards in some countries are not suitable for genuine exercise and recreation: they may be too small, covered with a roof, oppressive in design (e.g. cage-like or resembling a “concrete box”), with no facilities or shelter, the latter acting as a disincentive for spending time outdoors in poor weather.
Safe environment for outdoor exercise
The prison administration should ensure a safe environment for outdoor exercise, so that detainees can move around freely and take part in genuine recreation. This means providing sufficient supervision of the prison yard during exercise times, including adequate numbers of staff and possible additional measures such as CCTV surveillance. Separating different categories of detainees during exercise time (e.g. pre-trial and sentenced detainees, hard and soft regime detainees) can also contribute to a safer environment. Female detainees should always be separated from male detainees, including during outdoor exercise and time in prison yards.
In practice, it is not uncommon that prison yards are places of risk and tension. They may be dominated by rivalries between different prison gangs, with detainees’ movements being closely watched and controlled by informal detainee hierarchies. They may be the scene of threats, or violent or humiliating attacks, especially towards the most vulnerable detainees, and sometimes with the involvement of prison staff. In some prisons, prison staff do not enter into prison yards at all, meaning that they are not able to ensure the safety of detainees during exercise time.
Corruption can seriously limit detainees’ access to basic rights in prison, including to outdoor exercise. In some prisons, every aspect of prison life requires the payment of a bribe (to informal detainee hierarchies and/or prison staff). Detainees who do not pay may not have access to outdoor exercise for lengthy periods (which can amount to ill-treatment).
Groups in situations of vulnerability
Outdoor exercise is particularly important for children and young people in prison, as part of a balanced programme of activities which meets their welfare and developmental needs. Children and young people have the right to a suitable amount of outdoor exercise, and a minimum of one hour each day. In addition, international standards specify that physical and recreational training activities should be provided for children during this time. Adequate space, installations and equipment should be provided for these activities.
The prison administration should ensure that all children and young people are physically able to participate in the available programmes. Remedial physical education and therapy should be offered, under medical supervision, to children and young people needing it. A positive practice in some prisons is that children and young people have unhindered access to outdoor areas throughout the day, with a schedule of activities provided.
Women have the same right to outdoor exercise as male detainees. In practice, the space available for women to exercise in the open air is often smaller than for male detainees, with poorer facilities, especially in mixed prisons. The areas and time for outdoor exercise should be organised so that women are not required to take outdoor exercise with male detainees.
Persons with disabilities have the same right to outdoor exercise as other detainees. The prison authorities should take measures to ensure that persons with physical disabilities whose mobility is impaired can access areas for outdoor exercise. Efforts should be made to ensure that detainees with disabilities can participate in recreational activities during outdoor exercise time.
LGBTI detainees are at particular risk of bullying and violence during exercise time in prisons. The prison administration should take adequate measures to ensure their safety, including that there are no “blind spots” (areas that are not supervised) in the prison yard.
Legal standards (9) Print
United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules)
1. The purposes of a sentence of imprisonment or similar measures deprivative of a person’s liberty are primarily to protect society against crime and to reduce recidivism. Those purposes can be achieved only if the period of imprisonment is used to ensure, so far as possible, the reintegration of such persons into society upon release so that they can lead a law-abiding and self-supporting life.
2. To this end, prison administrations and other competent authorities should offer education, vocational training and work, as well as other forms of assistance that are appropriate and available, including those of a remedial, moral, spiritual, social and health- and sports-based nature. All such programmes, activities and services should be delivered in line with the individual treatment needs of prisoners.
Every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits.
Young prisoners, and others of suitable age and physique, shall receive physical and recreational training during the period of exercise. To this end, space, installations and equipment should be provided.
The physician or competent public health body shall regularly inspect and advise the prison director on:
(e) The observance of the rules concerning physical education and sports, in cases where there is no technical personnel in charge of these activities.
United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty
Every juvenile should have the right to a suitable amount of time for daily free exercise, in the open air whenever weather permits, during which time appropriate recreational and physical training should normally be provided. Adequate space, installations and equipment should be provided for these activities. [...] The detention facility should ensure that each juvenile is physically able to participate in the available programmes of physical education. Remedial physical education and therapy should be offered, under medical supervision, to juveniles needing it.
Interim Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Juan E. Méndez - A/66/268
The principal aspects of a prison regime relevant to an assessment of the conditions of solitary confinement include access to outdoor exercise and programming, access to meaningful human contact within the prison, and contact with the outside world. In accordance with rule 21 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits. Similarly, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture emphasizes that all prisoners without exception should be afforded the opportunity to have one hour of open-air exercise per day. However, State practice indicates that these standards are not always observed. In Jordan, for example, a detainee was allowed outside of his solitary confinement cell for only one hour per week (A/HRC/4/33/Add.3, appendix, para. 21). In Poltrotsky v. Ukraine, the European Court of Human Rights found that a lack of opportunity for outdoor exercise, coupled with a lack of access to natural light, constitutes a violation of article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, François Crépeau, Detention of Migrants in an Irregular Situation - A/HRC/20/24
The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which apply to all categories of prisoners, both criminal and those imprisoned under any other non-criminal process, set out minimum standards for, inter alia, accommodation, personal hygiene, clothing, bedding, food, exercise, access to newspapers, books and religious advisers, communication with the outside world and medical services.
The Special Rapporteur calls on States to consider progressively abolishing the administrative detention of migrants. In the meantime, Governments should take measures to ensure respect for the human rights of migrants in the context of detention, including by:
(f) Applying the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners to migrants under administrative detention, including providing for the separation of administrative detainees from criminal detainees; ensuring an adequate standard of accommodation, including minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation; providing for adequate sanitary, bathing and shower installations; allowing administrative detainees to wear their own clothing, and provide facilities for their cleaning; a separate bed with clean bedding for each detainee; adequate food and drinking water; at least one hour of outdoor exercise daily; the right to communicate with relatives and friends and to have access to newspapers, books and religious advisers; ensuring the presence of at least one qualified medical officer who should have some knowledge of psychiatry, as well as a qualified dental officer; and ensuring the right to make a request or complaint to the central prison administration, judicial authorities or other proper authorities;
Detention guidelines: guidelines on the applicable criteria and standards relating to the detention of asylum-seekers and alternatives to detention
Guideline 8. 48
IIf detained, asylum-seekers are entitled to the following minimum conditions of detention:
(viii) The opportunity to conduct some form of physical exercise through daily indoor and outdoor recreational activities needs to be available; as well as access to suitable outside space, including fresh air and natural light. Activities tailored to women and children, and which take account of cultural factors, are also needed.
European Prison Rules
The regime provided for all prisoners shall offer a balanced programme of activities.
Every prisoner shall be provided with the opportunity of at least one hour of exercise every day in the open air, if the weather permits.
When the weather is inclement alternative arrangements shall be made to allow prisoners to exercise.
Properly organised activities to promote physical fitness and provide for adequate exercise and recreational opportunities shall form an integral part of prison regimes.
Prison authorities shall facilitate such activities by providing appropriate installations and equipment.
Prison authorities shall make arrangements to organise special activities for those prisoners who need them.
Recreational opportunities, which include sport, games, cultural activities, hobbies and other leisure pursuits, shall be provided and, as far as possible, prisoners shall be allowed to organise them.
Prisoners shall be allowed to associate with each other during exercise and in order to take part in recreational activities.
Extract from the 2nd General Report [CPT/Inf (92) 3] - Imprisonment
A satisfactory programme of activities (work, education, sport, etc.) is of crucial importance for the well-being of prisoners. This holds true for all establishments, whether for sentenced prisoners or those awaiting trial. The CPT has observed that activities in many remand prisons are extremely limited. The organisation of regime activities in such establishments - which have a fairly rapid turnover of inmates - is not a straightforward matter. Clearly, there can be no question of individualised treatment programmes of the sort which might be aspired to in an establishment for sentenced prisoners. However, prisoners cannot simply be left to languish for weeks, possibly months, locked up in their cells, and this regardless of how good material conditions might be within the cells. The CPT considers that one should aim at ensuring that prisoners in remand establishments are able to spend a reasonable part of the day (8 hours or more) outside their cells, engaged in purposeful activity of a varied nature. Of course, regimes in establishments for sentenced prisoners should be even more favourable.
Specific mention should be made of outdoor exercise. The requirement that prisoners be allowed at least one hour of exercise in the open air every day is widely accepted as a basic safeguard (preferably it should form part of a broader programme of activities). The CPT wishes to emphasise that all prisoners without exception (including those undergoing cellular confinement as a punishment) should be offered the possibility to take outdoor exercise daily. It is also axiomatic that outdoor exercise facilities should be reasonably spacious and whenever possible offer shelter from inclement weather.
Naturally, the CPT is also attentive to the particular problems that might be encountered by certain specific categories of prisoners, for example: women, juveniles and foreigners.
Extract from the 19th General Report [CPT/Inf (2009) 27]
Conditions of detention for irregular migrants should reflect the nature of their deprivation of liberty, with limited restrictions in place and a varied regime of activities. For example, detained irregular migrants should have every opportunity to remain in meaningful contact with the outside world (including frequent opportunities to make telephone calls and receive visits) and should be restricted in their freedom of movement within the detention facility as little as possible. Even when conditions of detention in prisons meet these requirements – and this is certainly not always the case – the CPT considers the detention of irregular migrants in a prison environment to be fundamentally flawed, for the reasons indicated above.
24th General Report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture
Physical exercise should constitute an important part of the juveniles’ daily programme. All juveniles should be allowed to exercise regularly, for at least two hours every day, of which at least one hour should be in the open air and, preferably, considerably more. Outdoor exercise yards should be spacious and suitably equipped to give juveniles a real opportunity to exert themselves physically; they should also be equipped with shelter against inclement weather.
Questions for monitors (19) Print
Do all detainees in the prison have access to at least one hour outdoor exercise per day?
Do detainees in the prison have the same access to outdoor exercise? If there are differences, what are the reasons could measures be taken to ensure more equal access?
Are the areas for outdoor exercise (“prison yards”) suitable for genuine exercise and recreation?
Are prison yards large enough to walk around and exercise given the number of detainees who will use them at one time?
Are prison yards genuinely outdoors (not covered) providing the possibility of exposure to natural sunlight?
Are prison yards fitted with facilities for rest, shelter from inclement weather and equipment for exercise (e.g. ball game area)?
Are detainees provided with adequate clothing for outdoor exercise?
Are prison yards safe environments where detainees can move around freely?
Are there any reports of tensions, bullying or violence during outdoor exercise time?
How does the prison administration ensure safety during outdoor exercise time? How many staff are on the prison yards at one time? Is there additional surveillance, e.g. CCTV?
Are there any disincentives for taking part in outdoor exercise (e.g. exposure to poor weather, the requirement of paying bribes/corruption, lack of safety)?
Do children and young people have a minimum of one hour outdoor exercise a day, if possible more?
Are physical and recreational training activities provided for children and young people during exercise time?
Are adequate space, installations and equipment provided for these activities for children and young people?
Does the prison administration ensure that all children and young people are physically able to participate in training programmes?
Do women have the same access to outdoor exercise as men in prison?
Are detainees with impaired mobility able to access areas for outdoor exercise?
Are efforts made to ensure that detainees with disabilities can participate in recreational activities during exercise time?
Are LGBTI detainees able to safely participate in outdoor exercise (without the risk of bullying or violence)?
Further reading (5) Print
Contrôleur général des lieux de privation de liberté & Association for the Prevention of Torture, Opinions and Recommendations of the French Contrôleur général des lieux de privation de liberté (2008-2014), Recommendations of 24th December 2008 concerning the remand prison at Villefranche-sur-Saône, pp. 12-13.
European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), Report to the German Government on the visit to Germany carried out by the CPT from 25 November to 2 December 2013 (2014), CPT/Inf (2014) 23, paras. 15, 40 & 48.
UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), Report of the visit of the SPT to New Zealand (2014), UN doc: CAT/OP/NZL/ 1, paras. 83 & 84.
UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), Report of the visit of the SPT to Paraguay (2010), UN doc: CAT/OP/PRY/1, para. 214.
UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), Report of the visit of the SPT to the Maldives (2009), UN doc: CAT/OP/MDV/1, para. 224.