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Football research project under way in HMP & YOI Prescoed

Earlier this year, Jamie Grundy attended a meeting of our Positive Action Group (PAG) on Research and Evidence. There, he met Anna Upson, senior member of the National Research Committee, and received valuable advice on funding and applying to conduct research in prisons. 

Armed with that advice, Jamie – a freelance trainer and educator in prison education and community development – became the first applicant in England and Wales in a long time to successfully apply to research sport in the secure estate. 

Having secured funding in support of National Sporting Heritage Day, through the Heritage Lottery Fund, Jamie recently began his research inside HMP & YOI Prescoed, a category D prison in Monmouthshire, south Wales. 

The prison has a long-established football team who play in the Gwent Central League Division 2. They win it almost every season (at the time of writing they have won their first five games of 2018/19 with a goal difference of +55) but for administrative reasons are not allowed to be promoted. 

Knowing some of the players from previous projects in Prescoed, Jamie (pictured left) was keen to delve deeper into the importance football played for them in their lives inside the jail and in the process of rehabilitation. 

He is now conducting the research through interviews with inmates and prison staff and intends to produce not only a research piece for the National Research Committee but also an e-book about his findings. 

“I’ve played a lot of football in my time and used to play against Kirkham and Wymott prisons in the Lancashire leagues. That experience always stuck with me,” he says. 

Fast-forward to early 2017 and Jamie was working for Cardiff Metropolitan University who were recruited as a partner in a multi-agency substance misuse education project inside Prescoed jail. 

The programme, called CHASE (Collectively Heighten Awareness of Substance Misuse through Education), provided participants with access to qualifications which enabled them to take on mentoring roles inside the prison and deliver classes, volunteer or start work placements with charity partners outside the jail. 

Twenty-six men enrolled initially and of the 11 who were released in its first year half entered full-time paid employment within the substance misuse field. 

“This theme of activities for the participants being linked to their own rehabilitation really interested me,” reflected Jamie. “I’ve always known that sport has the power to do that too – not only as a form of engagement but also as a tool for rehabilitation. 

“Whenever I’ve worked in the prison estate, football has been a common theme; something that united the guys. When I was in Prescoed last week, one of the players was taking the **** and nutmegging one of the less-skilled players. The staff told me that a couple of years ago that guy would have responded with his fists, but football had helped to temper his aggression and given him new life skills. 

“For a lot of the guys it’s the first time they have ever been in any sort of team environment. Sport lends itself to more of a collective purpose, where you’re working together for the same goal. Rather than being very individual and self-protective, it’s helped them to trust other people, it has helped them transfer from closed conditions to category D, for release on temporary licence and for life post-release. Sport is a vital tool for those transitional skills.” 

Jamie added: “I see the guys in the team as individuals. They won’t all want to work with me, and it may take a while to build that trust, but they’re all working class lads like myself, who’ve just made bad choices. I would hope the impact of this piece of work is that people view these guys as people atoning for their mistakes. It can hopefully be a useful body of work for the National Research Committee and the Ministry of Justice on the process of rehabilitation.” 

Jamie’s research is part of a growing recognition of the potential of sport in prisons to contribute positively to rehabilitation and re-offending. The work of Pete Bell3 PillarsSaracens Sport FoundationLeeds Rhinos FoundationAIR Sports Network, the EFL Trust-funded project led by Exeter City, as well as our own Sports Club project, are just some examples. The Ministry of Justice’s recent Review of Sport in Youth and Adult prisons and the recent DCMS enquiry confirmed that sport is progressing up the political agenda, too. 

James Mapstone, Chair of the Alliance of Sport, commented: “We are delighted that Jamie was given permission to carry out research at Prescoed. Making connections through one of our Positive Action Groups and supporting conversations illustrates what can happen when you bring great people together. 

“We wish Jamie well in his research and we’re sure it can make a real contribution to what is a groundswell of support for sport’s positive impact within the secure estate.” 

(Main pic: C MA on Unsplash)

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