“Participation can not only improve health and behaviour but can directly contribute to efforts to reduce reoffending, particularly by providing a route into education and employment.” - Prof Rosie Meek, 2018
Professor Rosie Meek provides a brilliant insight into the important impact that sport can have on improving the lives of prisoners in A Sporting Chance: An Independent Review of Sport in Youth and Adult Prisons. We were also delighted to be included as a positive case study. Perhaps most importantly, Prof Meek provides actionable recommendations on how the involved organisations can develop this impact. The following will add the 3 Pillars perspective on a few items from the review and the Government Response.
Making people that have not previously responded well to traditional education sit in a classroom in the hope that they will suddenly suit that environment would be a rather large waste of time. Flexibility is key to enabling progress. The majority of our participants have a low level of education and do not enjoy traditional classroom-based learning. To combat this, our sessions are as practical as possible - if a lesson can be active we make it active. We use rugby as a tool to educate our participants. If we can get them involved and moving around there is a greater chance that they could learn something from their active participation, rather than passive attendance.
Keep Apart Lists
Prisons stop certain boys mixing because of the risk of them fighting. We’ve worked with some great staff who have encouraged conflict resolution meetings between these boys and participants respond well. Most prisoners need a reason to change their behaviour, such as the opportunity to take part in a purposeful activity. A communal activity, such as rugby training, provides prisoners the opportunity to productively engage with fellow prisoners, whether they are taking part in a fitness session or a match. Just because two prisoners have had confrontational interactions, it does not mean that keeping them separated is the only answer, in fact it could be rather counterproductive and foster further animosity. Giving young people an initial reason to work past their conflict and then directly engaging them in an activity together could be the solution to many issues.
Re-consider Martial Arts/Boxing
With both a martial artist and a pro-boxer in our team, we really believe that these activities could be key to making a lasting change in the lives of young people, particularly young men. We see a lot of young men that need to release their anger and develop their control.
We absolutely agree that safety and security of the environment must be paramount, and a properly constructed programme delivered by quality instructors could substantially improve the environment. Contrary to popular belief, martial arts are not about aggression, rather they are about control; control over one's mind, body and actions. Prison violence is a real problem and it needs to effectively challenged. If prisoners are going to be violent then provide them a suitable direction, ignoring the problem will not solve it. The government say there is no evidence such programmes will work in prison, so they should give organisations the opportunity to develop the evidence they require.
Our rugby programmes featured as a good practice example in the Sport Review. The extract gives a brief insight into the story of one participant and how a properly constructed pathway can support prisoners and ex-prisoners through sport and mentoring. Whilst we praise all of the hard work used as examples in the review, we believe it is necessary to state that sport it not enough, which both Prof Meek and Edward Argar MP recognise. Sport is a brilliant gateway to engage young people, rugby in particular is ideally suited to capture the attention (and energy) of young men prone to aggressive behaviour, but sport cannot and should not be the end. We look forward to positive developments in the criminal justice system.