News, Press - 25th July 2023

The positive impact of parkrun in custodial estates


Through the feedback we regularly receive, we know that parkruns operated on the custodial estate are popular and positive events, the benefits of which impact those in custody, the staff and the whole prison.


Now, with the results of research commissioned by His Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS) to explore prisoners’ experiences of participating in parkrun, we can understand exactly why parkrun is proving to be a success story within prisons and we are delighted to share the findings with you here. 


Founded in 2017, Black Combe parkrun was the first event held on the custodial estate. There are currently 28 events across the UK, Ireland and Australia with over 3,561 events and over 70,000 walks/runs completed by 11,500 unique participants (figures as of July 2023).


With the growth of parkrun across the custodial estates in different territories we anticipate completion of at least 1,000 custodial parkrun events in this current year alone, equating to some 20,000 finishes and 8,500 volunteer instances.



Yes, the headline numbers are impressive but why is this collaborative initiative, between HMPPS and parkrun, proving to be such a success?


Led by HMPPS, research was undertaken in three, all male, English Category C prisons in order to explore prisoners’ experiences of participating  (running/walking/volunteering) in the parkrun events held on their site. The findings have just been published in the journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice.


Based on the responses, the researchers identified five main benefits of parkrun to those in custody. The five themes indicate that custodial parkrun offers a ‘hook for change’ to support prisoners’ journeys towards rehabilitation and encourage previous offenders to abstain from crime (also known as desistance), and support the building of positive prison environments with benefits for all involved.


The five themes are as follows:


1. Connecting with others


The parkrun events provide the opportunity to build positive relationships, not only with other prisoners from different parts of the prison, but also with the staff members who help organise and/or participate in the events.


parkrunners at a custodial event


“You get people out there that don’t normally converse with each other during their normal daily routine in the prison, but out there they are parkrunning, they’re talking, they’re helping, they’re cheering one another on, you know, there’s a lot of camaraderie out there.” (Participant G)


Participating in parkrun also helps the prisoners connect with their families, giving them something positive to talk about during these familial interactions, as well as giving them a sense of belonging to a wider parkrun community beyond the custodial estate.


2. Wellbeing and healthy living


Prisoners said that participating in parkrun helped them maintain better physical health including fitness gains, better weight management, improved sleep and promoting them to make healthy lifestyle choices.


They also mentioned how walking, jogging, running, or volunteering helps lift their mood and energy levels, impacting positively on their mental health – especially given that the events take place outdoors, in the fresh air.


“It’s just a great way to start the day […] it gets you in the right frame of mind for the day ahead […] It just sets my day up.” Participant H


These benefits also extend to improvements in their sense of self-worth and self-esteem, building confidence in their abilities and future possibilities.


“I just believe in myself a bit more now. I feel good about myself for the first time in a long time.” Participant U


3. Safety, security and predictability


In their responses, the prisoners welcome the fact that the events are regular, well organised and feel safe, due to the lack of hostility between participants. It’s thought the events provide a sense of stability and calm within the unpredictable and more chaotic nature of the prison environment, and that they might even help to improve the atmosphere across the whole prison.


“It’s an island in a sea of less stable activity really.” Participant E


“The parkrun’s a small thing, but it has a massive impact on the whole jail’s environment, definitely.” Participant R


Custodial volunteers


4. Sense of purpose


For the prisoners, participating in parkrun feels like a constructive use of their time whilst in custody, providing some focus and meaning. They see it as an activity to look forward to each week, providing fulfillment and a sense of achievement through achieving one’s own goals but also in helping others.


“When you’ve finished it, you actually feel like you’ve accomplished something, and I think that’s great.” Participant H


Participants also see parkrun as a gateway to other purposeful activities, such as employment or other voluntary roles within the prison.


“The parkrun is what actually got me my gym orderly job.” Participant L


5. Re-humanising the prison experience


For custodial participants, parkrun provides a feeling of normality and freedom. The inclusive nature of parkrun which ensures everyone feels welcome, celebrated and not judged, means that the participants are able to relax and not be as defensive.


“It makes us feel that basically we’re not […] just criminals and we’re human beings as well. That we’ve committed a crime, we’re doing our punishment and we’re trying to change our lives around. And it makes us realise that basically they’re not judging us.” Participant Q


The prisoners hugely appreciate the option to participate in parkrun events in whatever way they choose – as a runner, walker or volunteer  – and, if they do volunteer, to be able to choose their role. This choice engenders a feeling of independence with the participants feeling trusted, respected and valued by others.


“In this place, they don’t really give you a lot of responsibilities so when they do give you some you find it, er, quite nice to tell you the truth. Quite rewarding.” Participant C


Respondents feel that participating in parkrun can potentially help with their transition back into the community, with participants considering involvement in their local parkrun upon release. This also gives the prisoners faith in the prison system and its staff, and the recognition that some good can come of their time in custody.


“I will be looking for a new life and part of that new life will be going to the parkrun and maybe meeting people with similar interests.” Participant K



Looking to the future  


This research has, for the first time ever, given us insight into how parkrun is experienced within the custodial estate. The benefits are wide ranging, and link not only to improved mental, physical and social health but also to the wider rehabilitation of prisoners. To this end, this initiative is fully supporting HMPPS’ core aims and ambitions of developing a rehabilitation culture and reducing the potential of reoffending upon an offender’s release.


We want to continue to activate events on the custodial estate, and maximise the impact that these events have on the lives of those in custody, the prison staff and the wider prison environment.


In the words of one prisoner: “parkrun is one of those few things that actually comes in the tick box of good things that happen.”  We want to extend the opportunity for prisoners and staff to experience all that is good about parkrun, about being active, about being connected to others, about being outdoors,and about being respected, valued and supported.


Find out more about custodial estate parkruns here.


Participation at custodial parkrun events is via authorised invitation only. Please refrain from contacting any custodial parkrun event teams directly.



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