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Prisons on the ball

Its a sad fact that, according to Home Office research, 84% of prison inmates will be reconvicted within two years of their release. But football hopes to change those statistics albeit fractionally and alter attitudes towards offenders in the process.

Charlton Athletic, long a pioneer in community and educational schemes, launched a pilot scheme some 18 months ago to develop education and sports coaching programmes for current prison inmates.

The scheme was sparked by a prison warden from Belmarsh, who happens to be a mad-keen Charlton fan. On a visit to the Valley he got into discussion with one of the club’s community programme team about the need to raise fitness levels.

The club volunteered to help, but on arrival at the prison was perplexed why — when prisoners were being coached for qualifications in basketball, say, and refereeing — there was no football in evidence. Right, said Charlton. We’ll train them up to be football coaches, give them a qualification, and then on release these guys can volunteer and if they do well we’ll employ them. The scheme was launched to a fanfare of publicity and the Government raved about it.

Unfortunately, the prison authorities picked those on a long stretch for the five-day course and ended up with a team in each house block raring for a game but with no hope of their individual managers being able to practice their newly found skills on the outside in the near future.

Back to the drawing board, said Charlton. Second time round it asked for inmates due for release within two years. A couple have already come out and done voluntary work. Now prisons in Stanford Hill and Rochester have come on board, too, with Charlton delivering FA Level 1 and 2 coaching, first aid, health awareness, numeracy and literacy programmes based around football for them.

There are, says the club, now four guys on day release from prison being mentored and doing volunteer work in schools and housing estates. It hopes, says Charlton, to employ at least one of them.

The impact of this project will be to assist in reducing the level of re-offending by being an integral part of a rewarding and enriching rehabilitation programme.

So the next time you’re tempted to moan about high wages and players behaving like spoilt brats, spare a thought for those at the other end of the scale. Football is not just about taking — but putting back into communities, too.


Louella Miles
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2007