A theoretically-informed sport-based outdoor education intervention to develop young offenders’ motivation, resilience and well-being, improve peer and staff relationships, and reduce offending behaviour within the secure estate and after release

Project Details


Below we highlight the current ‘problem’ from two angles. First, with regard to the ‘real world’ social challenges present in the secure estate, and second regarding the scientific literature base. Our research project seeks to address these problems simultaneously.

The ‘problem’ in terms of the wider social issues. A recent Youth Justice Board report states that in 2016-17, there were 16,500 new young people aged 10-17 recorded as first-time entrants to the criminal justice system in England and Wales. Additionally, 42.2% of young people reoffend, which evidences the significance of research in this context. Additionally, there has been recent and extensive media coverage on the unrest in many prisons in the UK and a particular attention on the violence and lack of inclusive and supportive culture at Medway Secure Training Centre (MSTC) which was the focus of a recent BBC documentary. Additionally, this Centre is likely to become one of the UK’s first Secure Schools – an initiative that has been planned by HMPPS in recent months. With MSTC keen to be the focus of this research project (see letter of support), the Research Team will be operating at the cutting edge of current issues and policy in the Criminal Justice System, and will be one of the first to be researching practices in the Government’s new Secure School environments.
Many young offenders experience mental health concerns, poor psychological well-being, emotional control and resilience, and often exhibit challenging behaviours and difficulty building and maintaining positive peer and staff relationships. High turnover of staff within prisons, combined with challenging working conditions, low budgets and staff numbers, often result in high stress levels for staff, poor morale and fractured relationships with those in their custody. These myriad issues again point to the significance of scientific study in custodial settings.

The ‘problem’ in terms of lack of scientific research. Research has begun to address the impact that sport-based programmes in the secure estate can bring to prisoners. Nonetheless, this research evidence is piecemeal, often only cross-sectional or based on short-term sport initiatives, and few rigorously tested longitudinal intervention studies exist, with many not sufficiently underpinned by scientific theory. Additionally, research has tended to focus on offenders in the adult estate (not those in young offender institutions), and focuses on within-prison outcomes (not the continued effects of an intervention after release back into the community). Last, most sport-based programmes are delivered in the secure estate, using spaces and equipment available and permitted within the facilities (e.g.. football, basketball, gym-based exercises) in sports halls, gyms and outdoor pitches. Research has yet to systematically explore the impact of an off-site outdoor adventure education programme for young offenders.

To address these problems, we will, using a mixed-methods approach, design, implement and rigorously evaluate an original, theoretically-informed sport-based outdoor education programme for young offenders. We will ascertain the effects of this intervention (both within the prison and after release) on young offenders’ motivation, resilience and psychological well-being, and offending behaviour. We also examine the effects of the intervention on the building of healthy staff and peer relationships, and engagement in the prison community and the wider community on release.
Effective start/end date1/08/1831/07/19


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