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“Sports club” prison project benefitting young offenders

The Alliance of Sport’s “sports club” project is giving young offenders in two secure establishments the opportunity to develop “physically, behaviourally and psychologically,” according to researcher Dr Juliette Stebbings.

The Sport England-funded pilot project aims to identify best practice in reducing offending by testing the effectiveness of weekly sports clubs (principally boxing and football) in two secure establishments in Kent – Medway Secure Training Centre and Cookham Wood Young Offender Institution.

The clubs are being delivered by two key partners, Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT) and Fight For Peace. They provide the young men and women on the project with weekly coaching, personal development and mentoring support whilst inside.

After their release from prison, offenders are encouraged to engage in CACT and Fight for Peace programmes taking place in the community. It gives them consistent and ongoing access to the same coaches, positive role models and supportive social environment that they had whilst in prison, which can act as a distraction from reoffending and previous negative peer groups and lifestyle habits.

Fight for Peace in action in the community

The project has been launched in response to the inconsistency in delivery of sport and physical activity in youth and adult prisons across England and Wales. The overall aim is to identify the role of community sports partnerships in delivering sport in prisons and how sport can best support people in desisting from crime after they are released. The long-term ambition is that the ‘best practice’ template created as part of the project will be widely adopted.

Research evaluating the sports club model’s impact is being led by Dr Juliette Stebbings from the University of Portsmouth. She is assessing the effects on participants’ physical activity levels, confidence, motivation, communication skills, engagement, attitude, relationships with peers and staff, and levels of violence and aggression. The research will also assess the impact on the prison environment more widely.

She commented: “This project is so important because up until now very little research has been done on the effects of being involved in sport and physical activity for young offenders. We know from experience and research there are many benefits of sport for young people, but there is just not enough scientific evidence yet to demonstrate this in the Secure Estate We need to explore how this works best in a prison environment.

“This sport club model is giving young people in the Secure Estate opportunities to benefit from sport in the same way more privileged children can. But its purpose isn’t just about evaluating the sports clubs’ effect on offenders while they are inside, it’s about its impact on the course their life takes after prison too. How effective can an ongoing relationship with their coaches and mentors be on their wellbeing and behaviour once they are back in the community?

“Many of these young people have been tarred with a negative identity from an early age. Many have disengaged from school and miss out on positive adult relationships and access to good role models. Fight For Peace and CACT can give them a place to go, a positive identity and opportunities to develop physically, behaviourally, and psychologically.”

A CACT community project in action

Juliette is in the process of interviewing the young people involved plus sport and mentoring delivery staff, prison staff and governors to capture a multi-perspective view of the project’s impact. All signs so far have been positive and the hope is that the model acts as guidance to bring about institutional change in the use of sport across the Secure Estate, to the benefit of all.

She added: “By producing what will be a solid piece of scientific evidence showcasing the effectiveness of this project, we can raise awareness of how powerful sport and physical activity can be in the rehabilitation process, and we can make a real difference to the lives of these young people.”

James Mapstone, Co-Founder and Chair of the Alliance of Sport, added: “We are incredibly thankful to Juliette for her commitment to this huge piece of work, to our fantastic partners, Fight For Peace and CACT, and especially to Sport England for funding the project.

“We are in talks already with Sport England and other delivery partners across the sector about potential next steps towards what we hope will eventually become a highly effective, nationally-adopted model.

“Later this year we are launching a new Sport in Prison Positive Action Group to support the delivery and development of sports clubs in prisons across England and Wales. Our hope is that, following the publication of the research later this year, a template for ‘best practice’ will disseminate across the sector.”