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Fit for Release

The annual cost of reoffending is the same as the cost of hosting the 2012 Olympics

As we celebrate the Olympics coming to London, our report ‘Fit for Release’ examines how sports-based learning in prison can be used to address offending behaviour and help reduce reoffending.

Sport is increasingly being recognised as a positive diversion, intervention and rehabilitation tool for use with prisoners, and current policy has developed to advocate the use of sport and physical activity as a vehicle to achieve non-sport policy objectives.

Several theories have been proposed to describe how sport may contribute to crime reduction, for instance as an alternative means of excitement, competition and risk taking, in conferring primary health benefits and in contributing to desistance by providing an alternative social network, access to positive role models, improving employability, making reparation and developing a pro-social identity.

fit4release-resized-1In this report we draw together a compelling body of evidence from prisoner learners and other stakeholders which demonstrates the value of sport as a rehabilitative tool in prison settings, specifically in relation to educational and employment opportunities. We recognise that while sport alone will not necessarily prevent reoffending, it offers an effective and powerful way in which to embed numeracy and literacy, promote higher level learning and motivate prisoners who may be difficult to engage in other resettlement, educational or psychological interventions.

We reveal the strong motivations for prisoners to engage in sports and fitness studies, typically against a backdrop of especially disrupted and negative educational experiences. We also highlight an enthusiasm for, and commitment to, employment in the sports and leisure industry by prisoners with a history of worklessness and lack of career aspirations.

Such motivation requires support and guidance in order to be nurtured into life-transforming opportunities and we argue that policy makers, prison staff, educational providers and sporting bodies all hold a responsibility for making such aspirations possible. This report investigates what qualifications and skills employers in the sports and fitness industry are looking for and their opinions about employing ex-offenders. We highlight how sports-based projects and support with distance learning in prisons can help prisoners achieve their education and employability goals.

As phase 4 of the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) begins, we hope that this report raises awareness that sports-based learning can be utilised with custodial populations to address offending behaviour and ultimately reduce reoffending. We also hope that the case studies will inspire best practice to be shared across the prison estate and that the recommendations will be acted upon so that prisoners can be better supported in becoming ‘fit for release’.

Professor Rosie Meek, Social Futures Research Institute, Teesside University
Nina Champion and Seb Klier, Learning Matters Project, Prisoners Education Trust

Download the report here

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