Sports as a bridge from prison to social reintegration Silvia Bernardo September 7, 2022

Sports as a bridge from prison to social reintegration

Individuals released from prison tend to experience difficulties such as the loss of social networks, strained or destroyed family ties, and slim employment opportunities. But, sports can engage and motivate even those facing the most significant life obstacles. Sports provide social networks, access to strong role models, and a different way of living.

Evidence has shown that inmates who participate in sports activities in correctional facilities tend to develop and improve their social skills. On the other hand, we know that skills such as teamwork, openness to learning, collaboration, and tolerance are crucial for anyone looking for a job opportunity. 

Hence NEXT STEPS, a project that focuses on enhancing pro-social and professional skills among people who are serving judicial sentences in custody through sports.

Benefits of sports in correctional settings

NEXT STEPS (The development and testing of a process chain for placing former detainees as specialists in the labour market) assists ex-offenders in socialisation and social integration. 

At the same time, the project seeks to accompany and guide them as they transition into the primary labour market. As a result, businesses can hire skilled personnel, some of whom are already highly qualified and motivated.

Several studies have shown that participating in sports whilst in prison can lessen aggression and violence. Exercise positively impacts hormone production, hence contributing to reducing and inhibiting violent behaviour. 

As Platje et al. and Van der Gronde et al. have evidenced, hormones and neurotransmitters, such as low serotonin levels or high testosterone levels, are linked to higher levels of aggressive behaviour and criminal activity.

Other authors tell us that playing collective sports can provide new possibilities for social learning. Sports coaches and non-deviant teammates have been found to play a crucial role. They serve as role models for at-risk individuals by sharing pro-social norms and deterring aggressive behaviour.

It has also been found that when individuals experience good values and pro-social examples in a sporting environment, they can acquire norms and develop non-violent coping mechanisms. Sports participants may also begin to perceive themselves as agents of their behaviours, which gives them a sense of control over their lives.

The NEXT STEPS project vision

The NEXT STEPS project seeks to create a regional network of organisations willing to cooperate with correctional institutions in the social reintegration of offenders. 

Hence, the project’s objectives are to support prisons in their socialisation efforts and assist (former) detainees to successfully transition back into society and the workforce, lowering the likelihood of re-offending.

Go up the ladder with NEXT STEPS 

On September 6th and 7th of 2022, the NEXT STEPS project partners met in Elba (Italy). During this meeting, the partnership was briefed on the state of development of project activities and outputs and discussed the following steps.

The initiative is developing a platform, a database with dozens of companies and voluntary organisations in each partner country (Germany, Austria, Italy and Portugal). There were contributions within the scope of this project meeting, so the partners will initiate contacts with the first institutions that will integrate the platform.

NEXT STEPS project meeting in Elba have been organised by Linc, an Italian project partner very much devoted to working with minorities’ successful integration into society. All members of the consortium were present: the coordinator Westdeutscher Handwerkskammertag (Germany), as well as the partners that make up the partnership: IPS_Innovative Prison Systems (Portugal), The Austrian Center for Lifelong Learning (Austria), Base- und Softballvereinigung Wassenberg 01 e.V. (Germany), Scuola Costruzioni Vicenza Andrea Palladio (Italy), Talentbrücke GmbH & Co. KG (Germany), and Antigone Onlus (Italy).

Visit NEXT STEPS website to learn more about the project.