European Partnership

Erasmus+ is the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe. The 2021-2027 programme places a strong focus on social inclusion, the green and digital transitions, and promoting young people’s participation in democratic life. It supports priorities and activities set out in the European Education Area, Digital Education Action Plan and the European Skills Agenda.

The programme also supports the European Pillar of Social Rights; implements the EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027 and develops the European dimension in sport.

The Erasmus+ project Sports in Prison, A Plan for the Future (SPPF) is a partnership between 6 European partners, in particular  Unione Italiana Sport per Tutti (UISP) Italy, United professionals for sustainable development Association (UPSDA) Bulgaria, Association for Creative social work (UKSR) Croatia, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB),Dienst Justitiële Inrichtingen (DJI) The Netherlands. De Rode Antraciet vzw (Belgium) supervises the SPPF project. 

Project aim

Although sports programmes in prison have been associated with various positive outcomes (psychological, health, empowerment,…), it has become apparent that there is a lack of knowledge at the European level to develop these programmes properly.    Furthermore, there is a lack of connection with the ‘outside world’. This means that good practices based on sport that exist in the ‘outside world’ do not reach the individual detainee. There is also no follow-up, once outside the prison walls. This is a missed opportunity.  Sport can be very important on a social level for the ex-prisoner and his/her social environment.

The SPPF project focuses on the need for the development of good sports programmes with more connection between the ‘outside world’ and the world inside the walls.                                                                                                                                    Within SPPF, we want to bring this about by setting up partnerships with services, clubs, organisations, volunteers and social partners.  The consortium (together with the external experts) will also try to develop a maximum impact on the social environment of the prisoners by developing follow-up trajectories for ex-prisoners.

The project aims at developing high quality sports programs with a better connection between the world inside and outside the prison walls.

Project design

The SPPF consortium will develop, test and implement learning areas in 5 European countries. These learning areas will be based on scientific and valid research (literature & survey). Using process and product evaluations, these innovative learning areas will be scientifically investigated in order to develop a toolkit and formulate policy recommendations for governments, prison directions and all stakeholders to set up good and sustainable practices on a local level within a European context.


Although more than 1 500 000 people are imprisoned throughout Europe, these people are at risk of being socially excluded within society. We believe that prisoners are more than their criminal record. They are human and are part of society, they are citizens. Several international legislations articulate that prisoners may not be excluded from the normal services provided to society. They lose their freedom, but they retain all their other rights, including the right to have access to sport and physical activities.

Academic research emphasize that sport and physical activities contribute to a better physical and mental health. But there is another argument to organize sports activities in prisons: it is a step in the direction of social integration. By developing sport programs with a social impact and a connection with society or the ‘outside world’, prisoners will find the mental oxygen to restore faith in themselves and in others. They can work on a positive self-image and a valuable identity perception, for example by developing their talents or strengthening their relationships with others.

Scientific research shows that sport can have a positive effect on the building of character. SPPF will offer prisoners a perspective to be socially active, it is an opportunity to form friendships, to work out networks and to battle social isolation.

Within the scope of this European project, specific collaborations are being set up with services, clubs, organisations, volunteers and social partners. In addition, the different research partners will develop follow-up trajectories for ex-prisoners together with external partners. This will maximise the impact on the social environment of inmates.

Sport as a step in the process of social integration and empowerment

There is a widespread trust in the ‘good of sport’. This trust goes beyond sport’s recreational benefits and its contribution to physical health enhancement. As one of today’s most visible social phenomena, sport is – to an increasing extent – associated with a variety of personal and societal outcomes clearly exceeding the sport context. Among other things, active involvement in sport has been associated with improved life skills, moral reasoning and educational performance. Sport is regarded as an ideal way to build social capital.

A variety of benefits derived from sport involvement for a prison population have been reported, such as:

  • Development of self-control,
  • Collaboration with others,
  • Learning to deal with play rules,
  • Development of self-consciousness,
  • Development of cognitive competences,
  • Education through sports,
  • Development of an identity,
  • Enjoying a victory in a positive way,
  • Experiencing joy, …

Innovative approach

Nowadays, the potential of using sport in prison to make a connection with the outside world and organisations operating in other sectors (e.g. education, social welfare, and employment) is undervalued. However, outside prison sport-plus and plus-sport are two formats that have been proven to work towards non-sporting outcomes related to personal and social development and employability. These are essential outcomes to support reintegration in society after release from prison.

To realise such non-sporting outcomes, it is essential to collaborate with organisations operating in other sectors. The way SPPF (Sports in Prison, a Plan for the Future) will work with and towards this knowledge is very new for prison settings but at the same time very replica table in these settings (and other) all over Europe.

Within the project SPPF we will facilitate innovative partnerships between prisons, prisoners, prison staff, volunteers, social partners and sport Federations, sport/social organisations and clubs and set up follow up trajectories outside the prison walls by providing “through the gate” support. By doing this we will bring in the expertise of all these organisations and individuals into prisons and at the same time make the connection with the ‘outside world’. This is – to our knowledge – the first time this happens on a European level.

We will also give the prisoners a voice within the SPPF project. Learning from our Erasmus+ project ‘Prisoners Active Citizenship’ (PAC) (KA2, 2017-2019), a growing number of De Rode Antraciet vzw initiatives invites prisoners to participate in the development and organisation of the sports and culture activities. That participation can have different forms which can be situated in the pyramid of citizen participation (Brosens, 2018): informing, consulting, advising, co-producing or empowerment. In particular at the levels of advising, co-producing and empowerment individual prisoners are given responsibility.

SPPF will increase the involvement and input from prisoners in organizing activities during this project. This kind of participation is very new for prisons all over Europe. We will build further on the lessons learned of the project ‘Prisoners’ Active Citizenship’, where learning areas have been implemented to let prisoners take up a role as active citizen during their incarceration. With the SPPF project, we go one step further by making the bridge with the society and the outside world.

More info?

Please contact Bloeme van Roemburg, project supervisor: