Sport in juvenile correctional facilities in the United States: a study of the scope and implementation

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University of Delaware
There is an extensive literature base exploring the positive benefits of sport on the growth and development of young people in school and community-based settings, which has found significant physical, psychological/emotional, intellectual, and social benefits for youth participating in thoughtfully constructed sport programs. Yet, there is much more limited systematic exploration into sport with young people in more non-traditional settings, such as juvenile justice settings, especially in the United States (US). Considering the appeal of sport among young people, findings that show high levels of sport participation among incarcerated youth, and poor health outcomes for youth who have been incarcerated; more research is needed in this area. The study focused on addressing two significant gaps in the literature related to (1) the landscape of this phenomenon across the US and (2) how such programs are implemented in secure facilities. Findings revealed that just over half (55.1%) of the sample of long- term, secure juvenile correctional facilities were operating sport programming revealing an inequity of access to sport for youth who are incarcerated. Among a sample of exemplar programs, it was found that implementation of the sport program largely occurred through factors at the facility-level, and policy (a community level factor) was not found to play a critical role in implementation, which could contribute to the variance in sport programming in juvenile facilities across the US. Findings suggest the need to draw upon and better integrate evidence from public health, juvenile justice and sport in order to promote equity in access and positive outcomes for youth. Such an integrative perspective has implications for future research as well as policy and practice.
Health Equity, Juvenile Justice, Physical Activity, Sport