The Perceived Benefits of Sport Based Interventions on the Psychological Well-being of People in Prison

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The aim of this doctoral programme of research, consisting of four separate studies, was to determine the perceived benefits of sport based interventions on the psychological well-being of prisoners. A methodical review was undertaken in Study 1 to assess the current evidence base and identify subsequent research questions to be addressed. Study 2 then focused on increasing knowledge of how and why sport based interventions can positively impact on psychological well-being within prison. Studies 3 and 4 were conducted in response to the need for robust prison based intervention studies, adopting specific well-being measures and follow-up, to test for immediate and long-term impacts on psychological well-being. Study 1 established positive impacts on psychological well-being within prison in 12 from 14 sport based interventions. However inconsistent definitions of psychological well-being, measurement inconsistencies and limited follow-up led to the conclusion that sport can have positive effects, but raised questions regarding how and under what conditions? There was also a consistent absence of psychological theory to explain and help replicate any positive impacts of sport observed. In response to the limitations highlighted in Study 1, Study 2 engaged with 16 stakeholders responsible for the design, delivery and oversight of sport based interventions in prison. A thematic framework was presented, linked to three psychological theories, to increase knowledge of how sport based interventions within prison can effectively impact upon psychological well-being. In Study 3 the effect of a 6-week sport based intervention in prison was considered. Positive effects on short-term psychological well-being during participation was shown, but failed to demonstrate any substantial longer term vi impacts. Study 3 also identified environmental barriers to effective implementation of sport based interventions, resulting in prisoner frustration at times. The inclusion of psychological theory highlighted in Study 2, and incorporated into Study 3, was inconclusive and requires further investigation. In response to the feasibility issues identified, Study 4 focused on testing the perceived benefits of an alternative short form sport-based intervention, aimed at directly improving mental health and psychological well-being within the male prison population. Statistical analysis revealed a short-term positive impact on mental health awareness. Results from the thematic analysis of focus group data also revealed participants perceived the intervention as a novel, appropriate and engaging format, and reported increased intentions to seek help and sense of hope for the future. No long-term effects were observed at 8-week follow-up. Based on the evidence acquired during this programme of research, it was concluded that sport based interventions in prison had short term positive impacts on psychological well-being. Suggestions are made for conducting studies to test the long-term impacts of well-designed sport based interventions in prison populations.
    Date of AwardMay 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsDepartment for Employment and Learning NI
    SupervisorGavin Breslin (Supervisor) & David Hassan (Supervisor)


    • Sport for Development
    • Physical Activity
    • Mental Health
    • Exercise
    • Prisoner

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