Prisoners in Australia are set to participate in weekly parkrun events for the first time from this Saturday (20th April) with HM Prison Dhurringile in Victoria becoming the first correctional facility in the southern hemisphere to host a parkrun.
The prison in central Victoria is a minimum-security mainstream facility that covers 420 acres and is a working farm with around 330 male detainees.
Building on the success of prison-based parkruns in the UK and Ireland, which commenced in 2017 and now take place weekly in 13 prisons across all security categories with more than 2,000 prisoners taking part, HM Prison Dhurringile identified parkrun as an innovative intervention that promotes both physical activity and volunteering opportunities for inmates and staff.
Dhurringile parkrun will take place within the confines of the prison perimeter each Saturday morning and be closed to the general public, with inmates and staff involved as walkers, runners and volunteer organisers. A second prison-based parkrun is then set to launch on 27th April at Mobilong prison in South Australia. If the events prove successful the initiative could be rolled out to other interested facilities across the country from as early as July.
Prisoners currently have access to sports opportunities, but in addition to providing the chance to be physically active in the open air, parkrun has the added benefit of promoting personal development through volunteering. This includes event management, public speaking, interpersonal communication and team building, providing prisoners with pathways into education and training and valuable skills for when they are reintegrated into society.
The benefits of physical activity in a prison environment are well documented in improving the physical and mental health of inmates and the atmosphere throughout a prison. It provides a sense of belonging, increased self-confidence, better moods and decreased stress.
Glen Turner, parkrun Australia’s Health and Wellbeing Lead said: “The overwhelming success of prison-based parkruns overseas has piqued the interest of several correctional facilities in Australia. The beauty of this initiative is that it is eminently scalable and we have really been buoyed by the enthusiasm to introduce prison parkruns here.
“parkrun is committed to empowering communities to deliver regular, enjoyable, social and safe physical activity and volunteering opportunities through a weekly 5km event and this includes enabling the most vulnerable people in our society to benefit. The prisoners themselves will help to deliver parkrun every week, providing a sense of responsibility, ownership and belonging.
“Prisoners who have been introduced to parkrun whilst in prison in the UK and Ireland have spoken about how it has positively impacted their lifestyle choices in terms of diet, hydration and sleep, and how this leads to better energy levels and moods and contributes to a more positive atmosphere within the prison.
“We recognise that designing and implementing programs to assist with rehabilitation and contribute towards successful reintegration are a complex challenge and there is no silver bullet that can prevent re-offending. However our experience to date shows that parkrun’s inherent nature of incorporating physical activity, volunteering, education and skill development into our events does have a role to play.”
parkrun Australia and HM Prison Dhurringile will work closely to positively impact the families of prisoners by encouraging family members to take part in their local parkrun to provide a shared and unifying experience.
Dhurringile Prison General Manager Colin Thompson said: “parkrun is a great opportunity to promote physical activity and volunteering opportunities for prisoners and staff.
“Sport and recreation plays an important role in improving the physical and mental health of prisoners, helping to prepare them for being released back into the community at the end of their sentence.”
“The weekly parkruns will have a range of benefits, including providing the prisoners with a sense of belonging and increased self-confidence.”
Several former inmates who were introduced to parkrun whilst in prison have spoken in the media about how this routine and behaviour has helped them reintegrate into their new community, and how accessing parkrun after release provides a positive environment that is supportive, non-judgmental and promotes positive lifestyle choices throughout the week.
Alfy Kirkley, who was introduced to parkrun in England whilst in prison and took part 17 times before being released, said: “I was on the brink of suicide in prison as I was trapped in a big hole. parkrun has given me structure and helped my fitness and mental health – one minute I was known as a jail junky and then all of a sudden I was the fittest and fastest man in Haverigg Prison. Not just physically healthy, mentally healthy too, and I now have a better social network. I have finally got my family back too – I registered my daughter to my local parkrun and we have taken part together since my release. parkrun helped saved my life.”
Professor Rosie Meek, best known for her work on the role and impact of sport and physical activity in prison settings, said: “From my extensive studies, I recognise the immense value of sport and physical exercise in the secure estate. Sport is often the perfect vehicle for engaging the most challenging and complex individuals caught up in a cycle of offending, and providing an alternative social network and access to positive role models. I applaud parkrun Australia for building on the success of prison-based events in the UK and Ireland.”
The National Alliance of Sport for the Desistance of Crime’s Co-Founder and Secretariat, Justin Coleman, who supported the implementation of parkruns in prisons in England, said: “parkrun is a catalyst for proactive social and complex change and is leading the way for prosocial change through physical activity and social unity. I have seen some of the most inspiring moments in criminal justice journeys for both staff and participants since they have started their own parkrun events. parkrun provides a regular focal point for prisoners of all ages to unite through and become physically and mentally healthier, socially connected and active – it’s a key for unity.”
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