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How baseball is enriching lives of young detainees in Germany

A baseball club in the German town of Heinsberg is setting the perfect example for how partnerships with community sport can be a powerful force for rehabilitation in criminal justice.

For over three years, players from the club’s first team, the Wassenberg Squirrels, have been visiting Heinsberg Prison to coach softball, in addition to providing mentoring, education and vocational training opportunities.

Earlier this year, a round-robin tournament was organised between the Squirrels, the young people in prison (who call themselves the Lago Lions), and two other teams from the local North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) leagues – the Mulheim Mavericks and the Siegen Pirates.

Wassenberg Squirrels

A post on the Squirrels Facebook page said: “The guests from Siegen and Mülheim showed no fear of contact. After a short time, all athletes were deep in conversations during the game breaks or joked together on the field. It’s an approach that Squirrels would like to expand as part of our commitment as a hub for integration.”

Young adults leaving Heinsberg jail are linked up with clubs in the NRW and many are now playing baseball and softball in the local leagues post-release. The scheme is also supported by other sports clubs, the Heinsberg district sports association, and local economic and political bodies.

Squirrels’ chairman Peter Dohmen commented: “The unquestionably positive feedback we get from our cooperation with the prison reinforces our view that this sports group can make a small contribution to the rehabilitation of prisoners.”

Leif Herfs, a sports official at Heinsberg Prison, explained why the detention centre supports the concept so whole-heartedly: “Due to the intense experience of a technically demanding sport like baseball and softball, many prisoners want to be able to do this sport even after being released into one of the 60 or so baseball clubs in North Rhine-Westphalia.

“This will put the former detainees in a new social environment that can help them integrate into society.”

Recently, visitors from Turkey, Greece, Italy and Austria came to see how the partnership works and to learn best practice. The visit was part of the STEPS project run by Erasmus+ – which is the education, youth and sport programme of the European Union. STEPS loosely translates as ‘sport and other recreational activities to successfully address young people and young adults in precarious situations’.

You can find more information about the project at: www.bsv-wassenberg.de/steps

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