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Sport interventions for resettlement
Haydn Morgan & Andrew Parker examine sport and physical activity as interventions for resettlement.

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Sport and physical activity

The latest (23 March 2024) Academic Insight from the probation inspectorate is titled Sport and physical activity as an intervention for reintegration and resettlement: key mechanisms for policy and practice. Written by Dr Haydn Morgan and Professor Andrew Parker, it sets out six key mechanisms for the effective design and implementation of sport-based criminal justice interventions, potentially leading to longer-term transformational impacts for participants.

The mechanisms highlight the benefits to be gained from adopting nuanced person-first, strengths-based approaches, and from supporting and investing in the delivery workforce. There is also a strong focus on the building of positive, supportive and trusting relationships with participants and other providers/key stakeholders, supporting the view that, at their core, probation and youth justice services are relational, collaborative and person-centred services.

Key mechanisms

The evidence surrounding the integration of sport and physical activity within criminal justice interventions has identified a wide range of contributing factors that may support outcomes related to diversion, rehabilitation, and reoffending. This report focuses on six mechanisms that are critical to ensuring that sport and physical activity interventions have a transformational (rather than transactional) impact for participants, and that should be considered within the design and implementation of such programmes in criminal justice settings. You can see the six mechanisms in the infographic I have reproduced from the report below.


The authors caution against just setting up a sports activity on the assumption it will be a good thing. They advocate for the inclusion of a ‘person-first’ approach which, instead of focusing on the management, mitigation, and response to any risk that programme participants may present, views the use of sport as an opportunity to actively invest in the lives of  people who have become entangled in the criminal justice system.

Strengths-based delivery

They say that the implementation of a strengths-based approach within sport-based interventions can be based on three guiding principles:

  1. individuals, irrespective of their current circumstances, have acquired and demonstrated strengths
  2. individuals possess resources in their community that can be identified and drawn upon to enhance their strengths
  3. those who assist and support these individuals do so from the perspective that they intend to work with them (not ‘on’ them) to further develop their strengths.

Understanding the specific benefits

The authors advocate that identifying what skills and attributes may better support resettlement is central to determining the effectiveness of transference from sport-based interventions which focus on criminal justice outcomes. In particular they focus on some of the recognised key building blocks of desistance: human capital; social capital and psychological capital.


The authors are keen to stress the importance of genuine partnerships which devolve autonomy in service design to the partner organisations and encourage them to build in the flexibility to respond to the individual needs of participants.

The opportunity to establish interpersonal relationships

The evidence base is clear that the interpersonal relationships between the recipients of sport-based interventions and those who lead and deliver them is the most critical mechanism to achieve positive developmental outcomes in sport and criminal justice approaches. The authors strongly recommend the involvement of effective mentoring support.

Support for workers

The final mechanism is to ensure that staff have both the skills to deliver the sporting intervention AND the skills and support to work with a vulnerable client group. The authors note that building these skills and retaining highly skilled staff is an ongoing challenge for the sector, which has been subject to significant financial cuts and short-term funding models.


The authors conclude that much of our evidence base around sports interventions in the criminal justice system is focused on diversionary activities and that careful consideration needs to be invested in establishing interventions that are more focused on resettlement.


Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here

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