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Pan-European Conference "Sport and Prison"

16-17 June 2014


French National Olympic and Sports Committee

Maison du sport Français
1 avenue de Pierre de Coubertin
75640 Paris cedex 13



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Sport and physical activity in European prisons

Sport and physical activity in

European prisons: a perspective from sport personnel.


José Devís-Devís, Carmen Peiró-Velert, Daniel Martos-García (Universitat de València, Spain)
Research assistants: Rodrigo Atienza-Gago and Alexandra Valencia-Peris
Collaboration: ‘Prisoners on the move’ partners.


This report is elaborated with the literature review on physical activity and sport in prison and data from a survey study addressed to prisons sport personnel of five European Union (EU) countries (Belgium-Flanders, Denmark, Romania, Spain and The Netherlands). The report is developed by the partner Universitat de València-Estudi General (UVEG), as part of the ‘Prisoners on the move’ project. The comparative nature of the survey study requires acknowledging that each European country has its own history and their own penitentiary system has been organized in keeping with the development of every country. It means that commonalities and differences among countries would emerge and previous comments on several issues will be needed in order to make comparisons among the five countries of this study. Three issues are of special interest in this project, especially developed from a sport personnel perspective: 1) the centralizationdecentralization of penitentiary systems organization; 2) the possible participation of institutions from outside of the penitentiary system; and 3) the role of physical activity and sport in the laws and regulations of these systems.

The degree of centralization or decentralization of penitentiary systems in European countries affects to the way sport professionals can be employed and the institution in charge of personnel’s employment. For instance, Denmark and Romania have a centralized system and it means that sport personnel’s employment has the same characteristics in the whole country and is strictly controlled by the institution in charge of prisons. On the contrary, Belgium presents a decentralized system in which the different landers have the sport activities and sport personnel under their own control and organization. Spain is under a decentralization process of its penitentiary system, started in Catalunya as the first region with responsibilities in the management of penitentiary system, which includes the control of sport activities and the employment of sport personnel.

Participation of other institutions from outside of the penitentiary system is linked to the centralization-decentralization issue, since countries with a centralized organization, such as Denmark and Romania, do not allow the collaboration of private institutions, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) or volunteers within the activities in prisons. On the contrary, more decentralized systems, such as the ones from Belgium and Spain, allow the participation of institutions from outside the prisons in the development of activities for inmates. The role of physical activity and sport in the laws and regulations related to penitentiary system also differ among the countries under study. In this case, Belgium-Flanders and Denmark mainly assign a recreational role to physical activity and sport since their regulations assure two hours of physical activity and sport in the spare time of prison regimentation. Romania and Spain also concede an educational role to physical activities. Sport and physical activities become an official programme within the prison system and coexist with the same status as inmates’ formal education/school. Although sport can also be part of school or formal education, for instance in Denmark, it is mainly understood as informal and entertaining activity to take a break or rest from the educational activities.

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