IPRT - Irish Penal Reform Trust

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The role of sport in prisons: education, motivation and reintegration.

20th August 2012

A recent report by Prisoners Education Trust (UK) ‘Fit For Release: How sports-based learning can help prisoners engage in education, gain employment and desist from crime’ recommends that sports in prisons be used as a 'hook' for learning, as a way to develop 'pro-social' identities, and as a tool to improve employment opportunities. 

Some prisoners may be reluctant to engage with traditional classroom settings, while a gym environment can be less intimidating and be an ideal place to engage with reluctant learners. Apart from carrying out classes or one-to-one tutorials in the gym, fitness-related problem solving in literacy and numeracy has proven an innovative and accessible method for 'embedded' learning. Sample questions include finding the mean, mode and median averages from football league tables, calculating the change from £20 after buying protein shakes, and correcting the punctuation in sports-related newspaper articles.

Further education and training in the fitness industry have also proven a successful path to employment and self-employment for some prisoners after release. One ex-prisoner, who went on to establish his own personal training company, told Prisoners Education Trust: "You look after the body and the mind takes care of itself. If you’re agitated, how can you sit down to study? If you go to the gym and get all the frustration out, and come back chilled out, releasing endorphins, you can do other things with your mind then". He added: "Working in the fitness industry enabled me to afford a master’s degree in social research methods. I have recently published a book and am about to start a PhD researching education and desistance from crime. I also guest lecture at universities. Education changed my life and fitness was part of that process.”

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