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Blog: “Clear signs of progress – but beware empty promises”

Professor Rosie Meek, aAlliance of Sport Trustee, released her landmark ‘Review of Sport in Youth and Adult Prisons’ in August 2018. Six months on, Edward Argar MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice, joined stakeholders in Petty France, London, to review the impact of the report’s recommendations so far. Here, Prof. Meek reflects on the event…


Six months is not a long time, especially in government, so it was tremendously encouraging at Wednesday’s event to hear evidence of the progress made across the sector since my Review was published in August. To hear Edward Argar MP and other key figures so invested in discussing and implementing the recommendations was so positive. 

My Review contained 12 recommendations to develop the use of sport and physical activity in justice as a vehicle for rehabilitation and reducing re-offending. Already, we’re seeing clear signs of those recommendations being put in place.

One key step forward is senior manager in prisons welcoming community sport organisations more readily, with many saying they are now more aware of the benefits and importance of those partnerships.

Many of the 100 attendees at the event were living proof of that positive shift. They included a huge diversity of practitioners who run sport and physical activity projects across the criminal justice system with diverse target demographics, such as the youth estate, females or older prisoners. 

People like Brighton Table Tennis Club, the School of Hard Knocks, parkrun and the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme are all doing very valuable work and turned up keen to learn more. We priotitised inviting organisations who were highlighted as examples of good practice in my Review, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the breadth of organisations now operating in the Secure Estate. 

In his speech, the Minister reflected on other developments we’ve seen already, such as re-introducing the Senior Gym Manager role in each UK prison, which was another of my recommendations. It will make a big difference. 

Things like Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) are also being thought about more seriously in the context of sport-based learning, placements and training, and they have promised to review keep-apart lists in juvenile establishments and how sport can be used to reduce conflict. The Minister also reiterated his commitment to the health and social benefits of sport-based prison programmes.

These sorts of direct actions, which have been promised, are really encouraging.

One part of my role which I’ve found rewarding is that I’ve been able to make introductions between prisons and sports groups who’ve never worked in prisons before – Richmond Rugby Club and Brighton Table Tennis Club being two such examples. Of course, that is a key part of the Alliance of Sport’s ethos, and The Minister praised Co-Founders James and Justin for their “vision of bringing the sector together” in this way. 

In amongst all this positivity and encouraging support from those in power, we must be wary of some of the promises we’re hearing. 

In some areas, I fear we’re receiving empty rhetoric. For example, Recommendation 11 in my Review asks the Ministry of Justice, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and senior managers to provide the leadership, staffing, training and facilities required to support a wide-reaching and high-quality sport and physical activity provision. 

This is going to require a big change to the historically isolated way prison departments operate. Commissioning healthcare, education and mental health contracts needs to be done in full partnership with PE departments, so the approach is co-ordinated. Having a Senior Manager in prison gyms, as recommended in the Review, should make a difference here as that person will have influence in the prison’s senior management team. 

What we now need is an action plan for tangible improvements in how sport-based programmes are delivered in the secure estate. At Wednesday’s event we heard some hugely encouraging words, but the next six months are about holding the Government to account on following up their words with actions. Making promises is easy, but seeing the resource and the expertise follow those promises must now be our top priority. 

To give your feedback on the ‘Review of Sport in Youth and Adult Prisons’, download and fill out the feedback form using the link below.

Main pic: Professor Rosie Meek pictured at Wednesday’s event with Keith Fraser, Alliance of Sport steering group member, retired Police Superintendent and Youth Justice Board member

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