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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Harnessing the potential of sport in prison

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Professor Rosie Meek makes 12 recommendations to make sport and health living a key part of a rehabilitative culture.

A Sporting Chance

The MoJ has just (11 August 2018) published Professor Rosie Meek’s independent review of sport in youth and adult prisons, commissioned by Dr Phillip Lee before he quit the government over Brexit.

A Sporting Chance is based on a public consultation, focus groups and interviews and visits to 21 different establishments. The publication includes examples of successful sports projects as well as profiles of sporting role models who spent time in prison including Ian Wright and LJ Flanders

The potential of sports-based rehabilitation programmes is cited at the start of the report (not all figures are the results of external independent evaluations):

Professor Meek found a mixed picture around sport and fitness provision inside and goes on to make 12 key recommendations.

Recommendation 1: Every establishment should devise and implement an integrated physical activity and wellbeing strategy

Sport and physical activity can change lives. Physical activity can only be fully promoted and implemented if it is the result of effective partnerships between gym departments / PE staff and healthcare, education and wing/custody staff, underpinned by an establishment-wide commitment to improving mental and physical wellbeing.

Recommendation 2: Commissioners and education providers should develop a flexible approach to delivery which enables collaborations and creative delivery.

Education contracts are sometimes so rigid they prevent establishments from delivering creative and
effective sports programmes. To make best use of the educational outcomes associated with physical activity, an
establishment’s learning environment needs to harness a widespread enthusiasm for sport and fitness in prison, embrace the creative delivery of sports-based learning and look for opportunities to embed sports-based learning within the existing education contract.

Recommendation 3: Prisons should offer nutritional advice .

Poor diet effects health and behaviour. Diet and nutrition are not only important features of health promotion, they also have a direct impact on behaviour and mood. 

Recommendation 4: Bringing prisoners together for sport can resolve conflict. Governors should revise keep apart list policies and establishments should include gym staff in keep apart decision making.

The use of keep apart lists dramatically undermines the regime of establishments – particularly those holding children and young people. 

Recommendation 5: Sport provision needs to be responsive to individual needs, with a focus on health, wellbeing and rehabilitation at the heart of practice.

Our prisons contain diverse populations and provision needs to reflect that in promoting participation for all ages, abilities and backgrounds. Offering physical activity which responds to the diverse needs of those held within our prisons will lead to positive health and rehabilitative outcomes, and fewer instances of violence
and conflict. 

Recommendation 6: The MoJ should develop a physical activity strategy for women and girls in prison.

A national strategy on physical activity for women and girls in prison is required to guide practice
and target resource. For a number of reasons women and girls in custody do not engage in physical
activity to the same extent as men and boys and as a result they are not benefiting from the social,
physical and psychological benefits of doing so. 

Recommendation 7: The MoJ should re-consider the national martial arts / boxing policy and pilot the introduction of targeted programmes which draw on boxing exercises, qualifications and associated activities

While concerns remain about managing such activities safely, there was a widespread frustration from the
professional staff I spoke to from different roles across the secure estate that boxing-related programmes are not offered in prisons. 

Recommendation 8: Senior managers and the MoJ need to monitor physical activity participation and outcomes according to ethnicity, and ensure that any disproportionality is addressed.

There is no routine analysis of sports and PE participation and outcome data according to ethnicity, despite the recent concerns raised by David Lammy MP of wider inequalities in the treatment of and outcomes for Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in the Criminal Justice System.

Recommendation 9: Senior managers need to encourage partnerships between prisons, communities, sporting groups and bodies.

Working in partnership can clearly facilitate innovation, offer resource savings and demonstrate wide-reaching impact, both within custodial settings and after a prison sentence is completed. However, the review found too many unnecessary obstacles to bringing the sporting community safely into prisons.

Recommendation 10: The MoJ should review Release on Temporary Licence, Mobility and related policies to facilitate meaningful sports-based learning, team-building activities, placements and training.

There is huge potential in the sports sector to provide placements, if prison establishments can have
stronger guidance and be supported to assess the risks, and work with police and community partners
to manage these risks. 

Recommendation 11: The MoJ and HMPPS need to provide the leadership, staffing, training and facilities required to support a wide-reaching and high-quality sport and physical activity provision.

In order to develop an integrated culture of promoting physical activity and wellbeing, a number of structural and organisational changes will need to be made including making PE staff directly accountable to a suitably qualified gym manager and strategic leadership and sport/PE staff training and development strategy.

Recommendation 12: The MoJ should create a dedicated physical activity monitoring and evaluation strategy which supplements existing Ofsted and HM Inspectorate of Prisons monitoring.

Staff should be responsible for recording and evidencing physical activity and sports-based programmes and need to be supported in doing so with data gathering tools which are fit for purpose and guided by a new monitoring and evaluation strategy. 

 

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