Blog: Why boxing can play a positive role in prisons
In his latest blog, our Co-Founder and Chair, James Mapstone, gives a passionate response to the Government’s recent rejection of a proposal to pilot boxing programmes in prisons.
I have personally witnessed the impact boxing can have on complex and challenging individuals who are caught up in a cycle of crime. The sport is a profoundly powerful engagement hook that can help to turn lives around and ultimately make society a safer place.
Carefully controlled boxing-based programmes can bring about huge improvements in offenders’ levels of engagement, physical and mental wellbeing, motivation, discipline, respect and behaviour.
That is why I was so disappointed by the Government’s recent rejection of proposals to pilot boxing and martial arts programmes in prisons – proposals that are published in the forthcoming Review of Sport in Criminal Justice with Professor Rosie Meek.
My reaction to the decision echoes that of Dr. Phillip Lee MP, whose foresight and vision was evident in his excellent Guardian article last week. What he said is entirely right – the rejection of the proposal is based on fear of public perception, and ignores what the weight of evidence tells us.
Many of our members – Fight for Peace, Anfield Boxing Club and Marcellus Baz’s SwitchUp – use boxing and martial arts as an engagement tool to achieve remarkable outcomes with at-risk young people and ex-offenders in community settings. To have their years of work twisted by tabloid headlines into talk of “kung-fu convicts” is, to say the least, unacceptable.
With the rise of violence in prisons and high level of re-offending, I can to some extent understand the nervousness surrounding the issue of delivering combat sports in the secure estate. However, even the briefest of further research beyond the misleading and distorted headlines reveals the true intention and value of the proposal.
Put simply, boxing can give disenfranchised people renewed purpose and focus, which leads them to positively address other areas of their lives. It is a potent force for rehabilitation – one that I have seen in action for the last 13 years.
Whilst I was Physical Education Manager at HMP & YOI Ashfield, we set up a Boxing Academy in response to a growing number of assaults on both other prisoners and staff. All the young people who joined the programme were told bad behaviour would see them banned from re-attending. It became popular very quickly and led to a rapid and sharp decline in violent incidents across the jail.
Participants experienced improvements in physical and mental wellbeing, motivation and behaviour. Professional boxers and coaches visited the prison and acted as role models, further fuelling resilience and movitation.
After I founded the 2nd Chance Project in 2008, I visited boxing clubs where similar effects were taking hold with young people who would otherwise be at risk of ending up inside. Boxing is an individual sport, but the buzz and camaraderie of the boxing gym was bonding and just as engaging as any team dressing room I’d ever been in.
Soon afterwards, I founded Park Knowle Amateur Boxing Club in a deprived area of Bristol and once again was privileged to witness its galvanising, inspiring and rehabilitative effect on participants’ lives outside of the ring.
The Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of Crime is proud to have joined the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Boxing, chaired by Chris Evans MP, which will continue to build the evidence base and strive to demonstrate boxing’s benefits.
The power of boxing is massively untapped. To those who hold an opposing view, such as Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis, my message is that we will continue all our efforts to make the case for boxing to earn its rightful, positive role within criminal justice.