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How sport helps offenders prepare for life on the outside

Human BingoThe Leeds Rhinos Foundation uses the power of sport, alongside personal development, to prepare offenders for release back into society.

The Foundation is the official charity of the 2017 Super League champions and its Onside project operates at HMP Leeds and HMP Wealstun with inmates who are within six months of the end of their sentence.

Their time is split between the gym halls, in which the men take part in multisports, physical team-building and problem-solving activities, and a classroom-based programme, which builds confidence and personal qualities to prepare them for re-integration into society and potential employment.

The sport element to the project is far from just a ‘hook’ to entice the men to engage in the project; it shows them that the skills they learn in the gym and on the field of play are vital to improving their lives through the gate. 

“We teach them that their sport skills are transferable,” says Onside Project Tutor Janet Sylvester. “Good communication skills are just as vital in rugby and football as they are in employment. It’s the person employers are looking for, not always the bits of paper.”

The project addresses all areas of personal development: anger triggers, being a ‘champion citizen’, ‘being a man’, healthy living, behaviour and consequences, and identifying strengths to build confidence. 

There are also more practical elements, such as how to present themselves to potential employers, verbal and non-verbal communication, employability, interview practice and CV writing. 

Healthy-UnHealthy Relationships“We get each individual to identify their own strengths and weaknesses. There is a real lack of self-belief among a lot of the guys, so it’s about making them think in different ways, believe they have good skillsets already and working on those,” says Janet. 

Onside addresses offending behaviour and helps to develop a ‘life plan’ to put in place upon release – a plan which focuses on increased self-reflection and consistent and constant self-improvement. 

The intention is to motivate, rehabilitate and resettle an individual into society where they can work in sustainable employment and enjoy a more successful life away from crime, therefore having a positive impact on society. 

Links with partners and agencies help to find employment on release, and there is bespoke one-to-one ‘through the gate’ support. Former project participants also return to act as mentors for those just beginning the programme. 

Success stories 

Circle Football1. One individual on the programme had been convicted on five previous occasions prior to being admitted to HMPS for burglary in June 2016, sentenced to 876 days. He was released on 22 May 2017 and since release from custody has had no further arrests. 

He completed the 10-week Onside project at HMP Wealstun, developing as an individual and growing in confidence. He showed huge focus and willingness to change. He recognised the personal qualities he can transfer into the workplace and demonstrated his positive attributes to future employers. 

The physical activity aspect of the programme is structured to involve leadership and communication games and activities which includes an element of teamwork and working under pressure. This element gave him the motivation to improve his fitness, which in turn has a positive effect on his whole wellbeing. He declined his CAT D so that he could complete the OnSide project. 

The Foundation arranged for him to meet a member of staff from their partners MEARS Group (who do maintenance for local authorities). He was later offered the opportunity to be interviewed for an apprenticeship role. He impressed them and was offered a job with a starting salary of £18,000 moving up to £27,000 after a year’s training. He has been working there since July 17. 

Toxic Waste2. Another inmate was sentenced to eight months for dangerous driving on 23 January 2016, having been convicted of nine previous offences. He was released on 14 August 2017 and has had no further arrests. 

He engaged fully with all the Onside activities both in the classroom and the physical sessions. He was hardworking and polite with a focused work ethic, showing excellent teamwork and leadership skills. He grew in confidence during the interactive discussions and made valuable contributions, volunteering to present to the class, showing his confidence and self-esteem had developed. 

After release, he was invited back on 16 May 2017 to mentor the next cohort on the project. He took on responsibility for leading some of the activities, supporting individuals with low ability, showing empathy and encouragement.

He developed his own project around the cost of criminal activity to victims which instigated some great discussion work. He managed often heated debates in a diplomatic and calm manner. 

Since release the Foundation has supported him with a ‘plan’ for life on the outside, signposting him to work agencies, making appointments and applying for his DBS. He has now gained 30 hours’ employment with his previous employer and will work on some of Onside’s education projects, including one working with 15-18-year-old NEETs. He has developed into a thoroughly positive role model. 


The Alliance of Sport would like to thank the Leeds Rhinos Foundation for being part of our Ministry of Justice Review of Sport in Criminal Justice.