How sport and physical activity supports women and girls in the criminal justice sphere
The eighth meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sport and Physical Activity in the Criminal Justice System focused on outstanding examples of engaging women and girls in the community and secure estate.
England Netball and the Metropolitan Police have recently joined forces to launch ‘Beyond the Court’, a year-long initiative positively engaging 35 girls in the London borough of Croydon who are at risk of becoming involved in the Criminal Justice System. The project also breaks down barriers between young people and the police.
The meeting heard from Lucy Goodman, England Netball’s Regional Coordinator for London and South East, and Sergeant Alex Adams from the Met’s Youth Engagement Team for Bromley, Croydon and Sutton.
Many of the Beyond the Court participants were referred by the Met after being brought to police notice. This could be for involvement in local crime or anti-social behaviour, having periodically gone missing having been identified as being at risk of county lines or sexual exploitation, as well as others who have a particular interest in netball.
Beyond the Court aims to empower young women and girls to engage in a positive outlet,enhance their physical and mental wellbeing as use netball as a vehicle for positive change. The project will consist of four netball days (coaching sessions and matches) and three police activity days (self-defence workshops, visits to the police dog school and more) as well as additional supplementary activity such as visits to elite netball matches.
England Netball are working with local community organisations and county and regional netball associations to remove all possible barriers to participation. This includes trauma-informed practice training for coaches and volunteers to ensure an inclusive environment and waiving of club fees for participants who qualify for free school meals.
The Met will evaluate the participants progress by monitoring the number of times they have come into police contact or come to police notice at various intervals throughout the programme, as well as receiving feedback from partner mentoring agencies, There will also be qualitative feedback on the participants’ enjoyment and perception of the sport and their attitudes towards the police.
“Being part of a team provides direction, purpose and camaraderie,” explained Sergeant Adams. “Everything has been set up for them to follow a pathway towards playing the sport long-term. We want to build up their skills and enjoyment for a year and refer them to local clubs in the area to continue their netball journey into adulthood.”
Lucy from England Netball added: “It’s about ingraining positive habits and mentalities. If the provision is fresh, engaging and accessible enough, then they will want to keep coming back. We will make it a place where they feel safe, where they belong and where people understand them.”
For more information about Beyond the Court, including plans for expansion into other London boroughs and county constabularies, click here.
The APPG meeting also heard from Wendy Limb, Head of Physical Education at HMPPS. With 71% of women in custody reporting a mental health problem (compared to 47% of men), sport and physical activity in the secure estate is vital in improving mood, reducing stress and increasing self-esteem.
Wendy outlined HMPPS’s five-year Women and Girls PE Improvement Strategy, which followed Recommendation 6 in Prof. Rosie Meek’s 2018 Sporting Chance Review.
The Strategy’s first priority was appropriate clothing and equipment, which was identified as a major reason for the previously low female participation levels in prison sports initiatives. Sports bras, trainers and other kit has now been made available.
Since 2020, a dedicated regional PE manager now leads on the women’s estate to improve induction processes, share information around issues such as exercise during menopause, post-natal and pregnancy and support innovation. Parkrun is about to launch its second weekly event in the women’s estate after its huge success at HMP Downview in Surrey and five of the country’s 12 women’s prisons have joined the Twinning Project. HMPPS have partnered with Prison Yoga, to train PE staff in nine women’s and girls’ facilities in a gender-specific and trauma-informed yoga package.
APPG Chair Clive Efford MP commented: “I have seen the struggle to prevent people sliding into crime and how powerful sport can be to prevent it. We know that when girls get towards adulthood they tend to drift away from sport, so these initiatives which seek to ingrain sport and exercise as lifelong passions and habits are extremely valuable and must be supported.”