Beyond Sport launch event

19 Nov 2015

Last month Nina Champion, PET’s Head of Policy and co-author of our report ‘Fit for Release’ on sports in prisons went to the launch of the prisoners' sports group the National Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of crime (NASDC), here she reports back:

"Some of PET's most popular distance learning courses are sports-related, so we have long promoted better access to sports in prison. With the government's review into prison education (Coates Review) and the Rio Olympics next year, it is particularly timely to look back to PET’s report ‘Fit for Release’ which was launched during the 2013 London Olympics. But since then, what has changed?

One of the recommendations in the report was to draw together different prison departments, the Voluntary and Community Sector and policy makers to ensure sport can be used to improve learning outcomes for prisoners.

Since then the co-author of that report, Prof. Rosie Meek, and Second Chance Academy, who featured as an example of best practice in the report, have launched the NASDC. Representing PET, I am delighted to sit on NASDC's steering group, which is also attended by government departments and prison representatives.

As always, the highlight of the day was the testimonies from prisoners and former prisoners who had used the power of sport to help turn their lives around, several of whom had been funded by PET to do distance learning courses in prison. Watch this space for their stories which we hope to feature on our website in the future.

Given Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s comments about the future role of Governors in education, it was heartening to hear from Governor Russ Trent, a former PE prison instructor, talk passionately about the link between sports and developing a ‘rehabilitative culture’. He began by outlining the challenging context Governors’ face in trying to establish a rehabilitative culture in their prisons: increase in the seriousness and frequency of violence, new psychoactive legal highs affecting prisoners’ behaviour, increased self harm and suicides, fewer staff, more inexperienced staff and more mental health issues. Despite such challenges, he describes the prison gym as being a ‘naturally rehabilitative environment’. He defines rehabilitative culture as ‘a place to find the best in someone and offer hope’.

In the gym, Governor Trent observed that staff know prisoners’ names, build relationships of trust and encourage prisoners to be ‘future orientated’.

He highlights the importance of prisons engaging with the Community and Voluntary Sector, as well as other prison departments such as healthcare and education. He argues that addressing educational needs by combining it with sports can improve engagement and retention. But as well as leading to qualifications and skills, he emphasises that sport develops the whole person, and offers ‘humanity, passion and community’.

Lord McNally, Chair of the Youth Justice Board, felt sports have a specific importance for younger prisoners and more should be done to utilise sport to ‘find something wonderful in people they didn’t know existed’. He commented on the new 30 hour education contracts in the young people’s estate which includes three hours of PE a week.

McNally said: "There is a gap between noble aspirations of government introducing the thirty hours, and the reality of a prison system which is under strain."

He was adamant that ‘we’ve got to make it work and look for smart ways of using time and money’. One way, he said, was to make much better use of the Voluntary and Community Sector who provide a bridge between prison and the community, are a valuable source of mentors with lived experience of the justice system and can help provide a welcome community in custody and after release. PET is launching a new project looking at education for young people and young adults and will be contributing to the Taylor Review of the Youth Justice System. Read more about the project and an example of good practice at HMYOI Parc.

It was an incredibly inspiring day and we look forward to working with the National Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of crime in the future."