Participation in sport as a mechanism to transform the lives of young people within the criminal justice system: an academic exploration of a theory of change

Haydn Morgan, Andrew Parker, Rosie Meek, Jon Cryer

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Sport is often framed as a panacea for social disharmony, especially within the context of marginalised youth populations, and is widely promoted as a mechanism through which a multiplicity of social policy objectives can be achieved. Yet while political rhetoric has long pointed towards sport’s transformative abilities, the basis for such claims remains unproven. Theory-based approaches to evaluation have been posited as a useful device to explore the impact of specific initiatives and indicate where best practice may operate. The aim of this paper is to highlight one such theory-based framework that has been devised by practitioners in recent years around the operationalisation and evaluation of sporting interventions in criminal justice settings and which has come to be adopted as the dominant ‘theory of change’ across sport and criminal justice practitioner settings in the UK, but has, as yet, eluded academic scrutiny. To address this omission, the present discussion offers an in-depth analysis of this framework with the aim of discerning more clearly ‘what might work’ within sport and criminal justice contexts. In turn, the paper aims to stimulate further academic debate around the instrumental role of sport within criminal justice and the value of such frameworks for both policy and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalSport, Education and Society
Early online date4 Oct 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Oct 2019

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