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A Sporting Chance: An Independent Review of Sport in Justice

Jack Merritt, about 4 years ago

Last week the government published an independent report into the positive impact that sport can have in prisons, written by Professor Rosie Meek of Royal Holloway, London. This week's blog explores some of the findings of the report, and discusses some of the fantastic sports-based programmes already running in prison it highlights.

In my role I saw first-hand how sport - and the relationships which sport can foster - could motivate young men with complex offending histories, some with especially challenging and disruptive behaviour, to change their attitudes, behaviour and lifestyles and access the support they needed in order to do so

- Professor Rosie Meek.

The report highlights a number of benefits that sport in prison can produce, as well as providing examples of good practice and identifying 12 recommendations to improve prisons through sport.

Professor Meek explains that the benefits of regular exercise in the promotion of psychological wellbeing, as well as physical health, are well understood. Sport can have the capacity to reduce depression and anxiety as well as promoting social inclusion and community cohesion.

I'm here for 5 years, but I've got more than 5 years added onto the end of my life, I'm a lot fitter, I've definitely seen the benefits.

- adult male prisoner.

Meek also found a link between sport and physical activity and other important aspects of prison rehabilitation such as education and employment. In a small number of establishments she found that gym-based team-building sessions were used during new education classes. Sports-based qualifications can be an important transition for offenders from prison to desistance from crime and employment.


John McAvoy was serving two life sentences when he discovered his skill for sport, prompted by taking part in a one million metre indoor rowing charity contest in HMP Lowdham Grange. With the support of a PE Instructor he was soon a multiple world record holder, breaking British and world indoor rowing records.

Professor Meek also urges the Ministry of Justice to re-consider their national policy that bans martial arts and boxing within prisons. Where these courses are offered (in some Secure Children's Homes and Secure Training Centres) they have been well received and highly valued, both for their behaviour management qualities and as a vehicle to facilitate education, discipline and communication.

Profile - Fight for Peace

Fight for Peace is an international organisation that combines boxing and martial arts with mentoring, education and personal development. In a 2015 evaluation of their London-based project, ex-offender participants reported being not only less likely to engage in crime (substantiated with follow up re-conviction data), but also less likely to engage in gang-related activities or carry a weapon.