Get Onside: All Prisoners Should Be Playing Rugby

70% of young offenders will reoffend within 12 months of stepping outside the prison walls; a frightening statistic, and one that is damning of the system and society around them.

Young people are currently living at a time where they’re patronised, frowned upon and constantly clipped at the wings whenever they show any signs of wanting to progress at work or fighting for basic human rights.

And if young people who haven’t offended are having this trouble in the real world, then young offenders difficulties will be tenfold.

Sure, they’ve done wrong, and showed ill-judgement. However, are you saying you wouldn’t have wanted to have been forgiven had you been caught stealing from the sweet shop opposite school when you were younger? Don’t pretend you didn’t pinch a Simpsons bubblegum from time-to-time – you were just fortunate to not be caught.

The current approach to dealing with young offenders seems to be, give them a watered down version of prison, and that will teach them.

But a watered down version of prison doesn’t help the reason that the majority of these young adults offended in the first place: isolation, cries for help and poor environment.

You have to show these young offenders how to have a different outlook on life; how to feel part of a community.

And the Get Onside programme has shown that, that can be done via sport – and that’s hardly rocket science, it makes complete sense, and is something that should’ve been implemented years ago, and on a larger scale.

Centred around the sport of rugby, young offenders can enrol in the ten-week scheme, on the basis that they must behave appropriately when at the young offenders institute at Feltham prison – any slight indication of stepping out of line results in being pulled off the Get Onside programme (can’t imagine Monk from Mean Machine lasting long).

“The usual reoffending rate there is 60 per cent but with the numbers that come through this programme that figure is down to five per cent, so it is having a massive influence in reforming people,”

– Chris Robshaw on the RFU’s Try For Change

Alongside the benefits of playing rugby – learning about teamwork, mixing with different races and religions and being a good winner – young offenders are also given guidance in what to do once their sentence has been served.

The scheme costs the taxpayer £35,000-a-year, but it costs £65,000 to just imprison someone, and then a further £40,000-a-year to keep them locked up. And with just two of the most recent 93 Get Onside entrants reoffending, the proof is in the pudding, especially when you consider the average reoffending rate for young offenders is 85% when not on the rugby-based programme.

Sport continues to serve a huge purpose in our lives – it’s the most important thing of the least important things – and although it is often marginalised, it’s at points where we most need comfort and escape, that we turn to sport.