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The role of sport in promoting prisoner health

Rosie Meek (Professor of Criminological Psychology, School of Social Sciences and Law, Teesside University, Middlesbrough, UK)
Gwen Lewis (Research Associate, School of Social Sciences and Law, Teesside University, Middlesbrough, UK)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 12 October 2012




The existing evidence base and policy context of sports‐based prisoner health promotion is evaluated, and an original analysis of current provision and best practice in delivering sport to address physical, mental and substance misuse needs among prisoners across the secure estate in England and Wales is presented, with a focus on the variability of provision across different prison establishments.


Inspectorate reports published by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (n=184) were analysed to assess the extent to which health promotion objectives are being implemented through physical education in prisons across England and Wales. Examples of innovative sport‐based health promoting programmes are drawn upon in order to illustrate principles of best practice.


Despite health promotion being engrained in existing policy, the degree to which physical, mental health and substance misuse needs are addressed through sport in prison remains highly variable and locally contingent across the secure estate, although examples of innovative practice are evident.

Research limitations/implications

For sport to promote prisoner health most effectively, tailored sports provision should be embedded within multi‐modal interventions which draw on internal and external partnerships and promote opportunities for ongoing sporting participation. Further research is required to delineate principles of best practice applicable to discrete prisoner populations.


Sport can play a key role in addressing a multitude of prisoner health needs whilst contributing to achieving “healthy prison” objectives in practice. Sport and physical activity clearly offers a valuable way of motivating prisoners to engage in health promoting initiatives.



Meek, R. and Lewis, G. (2012), "The role of sport in promoting prisoner health", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 8 No. 3/4, pp. 117-130.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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