Sport helps tackle youth crime, study finds

By Neil Puffett

| 10 June 2013

A sports activity programme has been extended to more cities after research found it was an effective way to engage marginalised young people and reduce youth crime.

Sport projects have been found to help deter young people from gangs. Picture: Urban Stars

A study of Urban Stars pilot projects in the West Midlands, South Gloucestershire and London by the University of Gloucestershire, found that eight out of 10 young people taking part felt it gave them discipline in their life.

A further eight out of 10 said being engaged with the project helped them to organise their time better.

When the scheme was run at Ashfield Young Offender Institution (YOI), which has since been re-categorised as an adult prison, reoffending rates were found to be 30 per cent lower among those who were on the programme than the national average.

The project, which offers grassroots sport in areas blighted by poverty, antisocial behaviour and gang activity, will now be extended to Manchester, Belfast, Bristol and Glasgow.

Gary Stannett, chief executive of the Active Communities Network, which runs Urban Stars, said: “Over the years we have always accepted that sport is a very, very good thing for young people and it's good for communities.

“But we’ve felt that while we accept it’s a good thing, there has always been a lack of evidence – which this research goes some way to addressing.”

In London, projects used football to work with young people.

Researchers found that the projects helped young people develop personal characteristics that would be conducive to them dealing more appropriately with traditional “postcode” gang rivalries.

Meanwhile, 70 per cent of participants said they were more reluctant to get involved with gangs and gang-related activity as a result of involvement with the programme.

In the West Midlands, weekly boxing sessions were held with small groups that had been referred either after serving custodial sentences or a community rehabilitation programme, or they had been referred by a local pupil referral unit.

Researchers found that for young people deemed to be at risk of further isolation and exclusion, boxing session venues were perceived as “safe spaces” that were accessible at times when they could potentially be spending time at “trouble spots” in their local neighbourhood.

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