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Rehabilitating Prisoners: Role of Sport

Volume 661: debated on Tuesday 4 June 2019

Participation in sport and physical activity in custody can have benefits for the physical and mental health of prisoners, as well as building confidence, teamwork skills, discipline and improving prospects of successful rehabilitation and resettlement in the community. We have recently published Professor Rosie Meek’s independent review of the role of sport in youth justice, and our own internal review of sport in the adult estate. Sport is an integral part of our approach to rehabilitation in prison.

I refer the House to my declaration of interest. The twinning project led by David Dein aims to take football into prisons to improve behaviour and reduce reoffending, and the Football Association referees department is now hoping to run referee courses alongside that, with Lancaster Farms Prison the first to offer the course. I know that the skills referees gain go far beyond officiating at match. Does the Minister agree that that element and the twinning project could have a very positive impact on the prisoners they work with, and will he encourage more prisons to get involved?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I acknowledge his interest as a qualified international referee, with skills that, on occasion, you probably put to good use in this House, Mr Speaker. I completely agree that the football twinning project, brilliantly led by David Dein, is hugely important and can have a positive effect on offenders. We have been working with FA referees to develop a bespoke referee course for prisons. Four pilot prisons have been identified to deliver this groundbreaking intervention, with the first course due to start in late summer at HMP Lancaster Farms, as my hon. Friend said. We all recognise the power of sport and we are determined to harness it.

David Dein is inspirational on this matter, and on many others, as I know from hearing from him directly on this important subject. He also has the great merit of being an Arsenal fan and a former vice-chairman of the club, as the hon. Gentleman is aware.

Last year’s review of sport in prisons shows that reoffending rates were markedly lower among those who had participated in sports-based resettlement programmes than among those who had not, but the report noted a distinct lack of engagement in physical activity among women in prison. What steps will the Minister take to implement Professor Meek’s recommendation of a specific physical activity strategy for women, and what incentives will the Government provide to sports clubs to get involved with rehabilitation schemes?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Our view is that sport can play a crucial role in rehabilitation and resettlement not just for male prisoners but for all prisoners, irrespective of gender. I went to see David Dein in HMP Downview, where we introduced the twinning project in a female prison for the first time, yielding fantastic results. We are very keen on the idea and are continuing to work with Jason Swettenham, the director in the Prison Service with responsibility for the project, to work within the custodial estate and with community organisations focused on engaging women in sport. They are absolutely integral to what we are trying to do.

If the Minister is not already aware of it, may I encourage him to look at the eight-week programme being run at Feltham young offenders institution by the Saracens Sport Foundation, which is obviously linked to the European club rugby champions? It has helped to reduce reoffending rates among participants by more than half by using classroom sessions and mentoring and by focusing on the values of sport and what they can bring.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I do not know if he is a clairvoyant, but if I recall my diary correctly I am due to visit Saracens at Feltham next week.

Will the Minister broker arrangements with our primary sporting clubs—rugby, football and cricket—to make sure they have the opportunity to pair up with a prison, so that there is a relationship that can evolve over time? Does he think that is a good idea?

I do think that is an excellent idea, which is exactly the principle behind the twinning project and exactly what is happening on the ground. The project is expanding to include more and more prisons. I have focused, given the nature of the question, on football, but the hon. Gentleman is right to highlight rugby, and from my perspective cricket is always a winner. He is absolutely right. The model is there with the twinning project and we want it to continue to expand.