I recognise the value of sport and physical activity for the physical and mental health benefits they bring, and for the role that they can play in encouraging positive behaviours among offenders. That is one of the main reasons that the Ministry of Justice commissioned Professor Rosie Meek’s review of sport in prisons, which published its recommendations this summer and to which I have responded.
The impact that sport can have is highlighted by the incredible story of John McAvoy, who discovered a talent for endurance sport while in prison serving a long sentence, and who is now a world record holder and a professional triathlete. Although not every offender will go on to complete an Ironman, sport can greatly reduce reoffending rates. What consideration has been given to improving the opportunity for offenders to participate in sport while in prison, and to encourage people such as John McAvoy to share his experience by speaking to offenders?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. John McAvoy’s story is an important one, and he helped to play an important role in promoting sport in our custodial estate. On my recent visit to HMYOI Wetherby, its impressive governor Andrew Dickinson set out the work that he is doing with local sports clubs such as Leeds Rhinos to provide important role models in that institution. Sport and programmes such as these can help to develop attitudes and skills such as discipline and teamwork that are valuable in making a success of life outside custody and in reducing reoffending.
With more over-60s in our prisons than under-21s, and claims that provision for women and girls is being underdeveloped, will the Minister outline whether he believes that a holistic approach for sports programmes throughout prisons is a realistic approach to prevent reoffending?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the ageing population in our prisons. The approach that we have adopted—which was set out in Professor Rosie Meek’s report—is designed to provide sport and physical education opportunities for all those in our custodial institutions, regardless of gender or age.
Yesterday I attended the launch at Chester cathedral of an impressive display of artwork by prisoners, the production of which had clearly helped many in their journeys towards personal wholeness. In what other ways can the Ministry of Justice produce an environment that is conducive to good mental health?
My hon. Friend raises an important point; she has done a lot of work in this area and more broadly around mental health. Sport can play a significant role in addressing mental health issues in prison, but so too can arts, education and others approaches, as she highlights. If she feels that it would be useful, I would be happy to meet her to discuss further her visit and what she took away from it.
I am glad that the Minister prefers sport to chain gangs, but can he tell the House when the use of sport for prisoner rehabilitation will be the norm, rather than the exception?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight again the importance of sport. The report published by Professor Meek in the summer, of which we have accepted 53 of the 54 recommendations, sets out a clear direction of travel—that is, alongside education and developing skills, and provisions for mental and physical health, sport plays a key role for prisoners in the rehabilitative process.[This section has been corrected on