Do youth offenders benefit from physical activity?

Ellen Rowles from Action PR outlines why physical activity can hold the key to the success of supporting youth offenders…

Statistics from the Youth Justice Board show that last year alone, there were around 950,000 recorded arrests for offences in England and Wales, of which 94,960 were people aged 10-17 years. Their statistics also show that the number of young people arrested has fallen by 13% between March 2014 and March 2015. While offences may have fallen by 73%, offences committed by 10-17-year-olds still account for 10% of all arrests in England and Wales. These statistics show that youth crime is still an issue faced by every community. Local councils must work in partnership with the right organisations to tackle and prevent the problem of youth offending before individuals fall into the criminal justice system.

Evidence suggests that participation in positive activities is a factor in preventing offending, an approach which has been adopted by East Sussex County Council. With the help and support of funding from County Sports Partnership Active Sussex, a wide variety of leisure trusts across the county have worked together to introduce a new 8-week fitness programme for young offenders or those at high risk of offending.

The ‘Yot Fit’ programme was created specifically to help to reduce the rates of offending in East Sussex, whilst also aiming to increase activity levels amongst young people. The programme was originally piloted through Eastbourne Borough Council’s community department, East Sussex Youth Offending Team and the Sovereign Centre – an Eastbourne Leisure Trust facility – thanks to funding from Sport England’s Sportivate programme.

Through health promotion, diversionary activity, positive role models and team interaction the programme aims to build a positive group identity. The sessions offer participants a wide range of sporting opportunities, as well as the chance to improve body image and weight management – both of which are common issues for young people, particularly those involved with substance misuse.

Since the original pilot, where over 20 young people were engaged, Active Sussex has funded further projects in the Hailsham and Seahaven areas. The not-for-profit leisure trust Freedom Leisure was invited to join Eastbourne Leisure Trust, as well as Wave Leisure in delivering the programme, whilst extending the offer to those on the cusp of becoming young offenders after consulting with East Sussex County Council Targeted Youth Service.

Freedom Leisure launched the programme at Hailsham Leisure Centre, which it operates in partnership with Wealden District Council, earlier this year. The programme began with an induction, including a centre tour and health check of weight, waist, and height and resting heart rate so that progress could be monitored at the end of the course. All participants were given the opportunity to try out a variety of classes including body pump, circuits, boxercise and swimming at the centre. They also had access to café facilities which allowed for social time and group bonding.

After participants completed the programme they were offered a reduced price membership as an incentive to continue keeping active, and as a reward to young offenders who had behaved appropriately during the course. Many participants who attended the course stated that they would have previously found the expense of a gym membership a barrier to exercise.

“Active Sussex is proud to support such a positive project that highlights the value and impact that sport and physical activity can bring to a young person’s life. The project also highlights the benefits of working with a wide coalition of partners to tackle inactivity and pilot effective local delivery,” says Sid Fletcher, Sports Projects Officer, Active Sussex. Freedom Leisure has since received further funding to introduce two new 8-week programmes which took place in October this year at Hailsham Leisure centre and at Summerfields Leisure Centre in Hastings.

“We are proud to be working with the council’s Youth Offending team and are pleased with how well the pilot project was received by participants,” says Freedom Leisure Group Sport Development Manager Richard Bagwell. “We are fully committed to providing a wide range of fitness opportunities for our community. This programme plays a vital role supporting young people to have a more positive attitude and we look forward to continuing the scheme for our local youth.”

To date, over 60 young people have been engaged throughout the project, and whilst it’s too early to measure the llong-termimpact, the feedback from participants has been hugely positive. Over a third regularly attended courses, and more positive attitudes and behaviours among the young people have been reported. It’s clear to see that with further investment, this programme and others similar to it, that physical activity can play a vital role in boosting self-esteem and support young people who are perhaps at risk of offending.

Ellen Rowles

Junior Account Manager

Action PR


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