Did you know there there is a small but growing number of parkruns launching in prisons? Inmates at the Wandoo Rehabilitation Prison in Perth, Australia, became the first women in custody anywhere in the world to take part in weekly parkrun events when Wandoo parkrun launched in July. There were 42 finishers and 11 volunteers at their inaugural event!
Wandoo became Western Australia’s first dedicated alcohol and drug rehabilitation prison for women in custody when it opened in August 2018. The pioneering facility, which has around 80 medium and minimum security detainees, offers a supportive environment where women can break the cycle of addiction.
parkrun Australia is a not-for-profit organization that supports 360 communities across the country to coordinate free, socially-focused, volunteer-led 5km events for walkers and runners, with more than 560,000 people in Australia taking part. This includes correctional settings, with inmates at Dhurringile and Hopkins prisons in Victoria and Mobilong Prison in South Australia delivering weekly parkruns for fellow inmates and staff, with more such events in the pipeline.
parkruns in correctional settings are closed to the general public.
In addition to promoting healthier lifestyle choices and positively impacting the mood among the inmates, correctional settings that host parkrun events report an improved atmosphere throughout the facility and better relationships between detainees and staff. Inmates encourage family members and friends to take part in their local parkrun with a view to participating together post-release, with parkrun events in the community providing a positive circle of influence and weekly focal point for those reintegrating into society.
The Commissioner for Corrective Services in Western Australia Tony Hassall said: “Drug and alcohol abuse takes a shocking toll on not just the mind, but also the body. Introducing an organized exercise event into their routine will help build the women’s confidence and resilience as they improve their physical fitness while undergoing therapy.
“I am delighted that Australia’s first female prison parkrun is being held in Western Australia. Upon release, I expect the women will be keen to keep up their fitness and join their local parkrun in their communities,” the Commissioner said.
Glen Turner, the Health and Wellbeing Lead for parkrun Australia said: “Women and girls in custody face the same challenges as females in wider society when it comes to accessing physical activity such as self-consciousness and body image concerns, which are compounded by the fact that many female correctional facilities lack sufficient provision for organized outdoor activities. Consequently females in custody do not engage in physical activity to the same extent as males and don’t benefit from the social, physical and psychological benefits of doing so.
“Because parkrun in Australia is one of the few examples of mixed gender physical activity where more females than males take part, we believe it’s a model that can successfully be implemented at scale to benefit women and girls in custody. Wandoo parkrun is the first step and could be a watershed moment in the delivery of physical activity in female correctional settings around the world.”
The UK and Ireland, which pioneered the prison parkrun program in 2017, now have 17 male facilities across all security categories delivering weekly parkrun events with around 3,000 inmates taking part as walkers, runners and volunteers. Inmates who have been introduced to parkrun on both sides of the world 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.
HM Prison Dhurringile in Victoria became the first correctional setting in the southern hemisphere to introduce parkrun when it launched in April 2019.
Dhurringile Senior Prison Officer Sean Goode said: “parkrun is a great opportunity to promote physical activity and volunteering opportunities for prisoners and staff and the feedback from the participating prisoners has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The prisoners are telling us they feel healthier, in terms of their physical and mental wellbeing,” Mr. Goode said.
“They have seen an increase in their self-determination, self-confidence and motivation, which will help prepare them for being released back into the community at the end of their sentence. As parkruns are organized in many Australian locations, parkrun provides an opportunity for people to transition to community-based parkruns after they complete their time in custody.”
Dr. Chad Brunner, a Medical Officer at Mobilong Prison in South Australia who regularly takes part in the prison-based parkrun in that facility, said: “We need to be innovative in finding ways to manage the vast array of health issues that arise in the prison population, from day to day illness to trauma treatment and, increasingly, chronic disease management. The walking, running, volunteering and spectating opportunities available at parkrun can significantly improve the physical and mental wellbeing of inmates by providing a catalyst for positive lifestyle changes and a greater awareness of the importance of being active and healthy.”
Professor Rosie Meek, best known for her work on the role and impact of sport and physical activity in custodial settings, said: “The development of parkruns into custodial settings represents a welcome recognition of the benefits of promoting physical activity and volunteering in our prisons – two areas we already know can be hugely important in efforts to reduce reoffending and in making our prisons and our communities safer places to live and work. We also know that women in our prisons are often under-served in terms of opportunities to be physically active and I applaud Wandoo for making the commitment to become the world’s first women’s prison parkrun.”
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