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A Sporting Chance

An Independent Review of Sport in Youth and Adult Prisons

Author: Rosie Meek

Working with people in prison and tackling reoffending is one of the biggest challenges our society faces, and one in which sport has a unique and important role to play. As Tracey Crouch MP, the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, reminds us in her foreword to the current Sport England strategy, sport can have an impact on almost every aspect of everyone’s life. In prison, just as in our communities, the impact of sport can be far-reaching. Participation can not only improve health and behaviour but can directly contribute to efforts to reduce reoffending, particularly by providing a route into education and employment. Recognising this, clubs and organisations representing football (including Cheslea, Everton and Fulham), rugby (including Saracens, Northampton and Leeds Rhinos) and beyond (including parkrun, the English Chess Federation and Brighton Table Tennis club) are collaborating with prisons in developing programmes that promote activity and tackle reoffending.

In undertaking this review I visited and audited the provision of 21 different establishments, where I spoke with individuals from across the staffing structure and the children, young adults and adults in their care. I invited responses to a public consultation and met with community groups and dozens of people whose lives have been changed through sport in prison. These experiences helped to shape the recommendations that follow.

Although this review demonstrates that much still needs to be done, I have also reported here some of the positive sporting achievements which have already taken place in our prisons and which have provided the motivation and skills for people to turn their lives around. These achievements are all the more remarkable given the levels of despair and brutality often encountered within our prison system. As well as celebrating these successes we need to develop mechanisms for rewarding and sharing good practice and I hope I have contributed to the latter by presenting a series of good practice examples from across the youth and adult estate.

The 12 recommendations I outline are largely targeted at prison staff and senior managers, HM Prison and Probation Service, the Ministry of Justice, and the wider Criminal Justice and Sport and Fitness sectors, particularly those involved in designing and delivering prison sports programmes. In responding to these recommendations, we have a collective responsibility to challenge outdated and ineffective policies and practices and to make greater efforts to instil in our prisons a consistent culture of learning and wellbeing, both of which are fundamental in promoting a wider rehabilitative culture.

Government policies relating to prison regimes are crucial in guiding change, but just as significant are the ways in which prison sport and physical activity are positioned within the wider Criminal Justice System and beyond. My recommendations call for collaboration and innovation, which will

need to be empowered by effective leadership, training and evaluation. Language is also important in positioning prison sport, and a simple branding exercise, for example where a prison gym is referred to as a Sports College, will go some way to inspiring an educational culture in a prison gym.

What takes place in our prisons is a public concern, and the physical and psychological wellbeing of those in prison is a public health issue. Those who return to their communities after serving a prison sentence will bring with them their experiences, both negative and positive, which will also have had (and will continue to have) an impact on the lives of their families and those who work with them. Our efforts in this domain will have an impact on our efforts to create safer communities and reduce the numbers of future victims.

My suggestions for the reform of physical activity in custody should be seen in the context of other Government campaigns, and now is the time for the Ministry of Justice, HM Prison and Probation Service and Youth Custody Service to work together with partners such as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Department of Health and Social Care, Department for Education and the Home Office, many of whom are progressing with their own strategies, in order to develop coordinated efforts to promote physical activity.