Over the last 15 years prison populations around the world have grown exponentially, and although sport is increasingly being used in society to tackle the issues of anti-social behaviour and crime reduction (Nichols, 2004, 2007; Coalter 2007; Smith & Waddington, 2004), little is known about the use and effectiveness of sports-based interventions (SBIs) in preparing prisoners for a life free from crime after prison. However, Gallant et al. (2015) highlight that although there is a scarcity of research regarding sport and recreation activities in prisons three main themes appear to be clearly evident in the academic literature: first, the health and wellbeing benefits for prisoners (Amtmann et al., 2001; Elger, 2009; Meek & Lewis, 2012; Vaiciulis et al. 2011); second, the tendency of the SBI’s to aid in the rehabilitation process (Hagan, 1989; Leberman, 2007; Mahon & Bullock, 1991; Stumbo & Little, 1991); and third, the effectiveness of SBIs as an offender management tool (Aguilar & Asmussen, 1990; Crutchfield et al., 1981; Martos-Garcia et al., 2009; Medve, 1961; Sabo, 2001).
These empirical studies lay the foundations for the further examination of the use of SBIs within the prison setting, but with a stronger focus on the post-prison process. This is particularly relevant within the NI context as the proven reoffending rate for prison releases is currently 41% (DoJ, 2018).
Throughout the UK, growing prison populations and high recidivism rates are placing extreme pressure and scrutiny on governing bodies to provide more opportunities for prisoners to prepare themselves for release. Meek’s (2014) research highlights the inconsistent and under-developed practice that exists in prisons within the UK when it comes to the delivery, monitoring, evaluation and support for the participants of these programmes once they leave the custodial setting. Certainly Meek’s (2014) work is significant as it bridged the fields of psychology, criminology and sport for development (SfD) and raised questions as to the potential for both positive and negatives outcomes to result from SBIs in prisons.
The prison context is unique in terms of SfD development research as in this setting the sports programme is regarded as a privilege and can be taken away as a punishment, unlike the outside world where this would not be the case. Therefore, understanding what is perceived to make these programmes successful and what this measure of success looks like is crucial to ascertain for the particular geographical, structural and policy context of in Northern Ireland.
Limited research has taken place in terms of SBIs in prisons in Northern Ireland (NI) and what has been published has focused on psychology well-being (Breslin, Wood, Hassan, 2017). Therefore, innovative questions that will be raised in this research project which will focus on the pre- and post-release outcomes of SBIs in preparing prisoners for release and reducing reoffending.
- To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
- Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
- A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.
- First Class Honours (1st) Degree
- Masters at 65%
- Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
- Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
- Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
- Work experience relevant to the proposed project
- Publications - peer-reviewed
- Experience of presentation of research findings
- Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.
The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:
Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)
Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).
This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.
Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)
Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).
This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,500 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.
Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)
Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).
This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.
Department for the Economy (DFE)
The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,285 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.
Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies
The Doctoral College at Ulster University
My research examined the ability of exercise to inflict damage to DNA and other biologically important structures. During my PhD I had the pleasure of being supervised by Prof Gareth Davison and Dr Ciara Hughes. Pursuing a PhD was never a goal from the outset of my academic career - I wanted to be a PE teacher and completed my BSc in Sport and Exercise Science. However, I carried on with my studies and completed a MSc in Sports Nutrition before enrolling in my PhD.If I could give advice to any new graduate student, it would be the nature of research means that things will not always go according to plan. Keep calm, take a break and then carry on. Have a life outside work. Although your lab group is like your work family, it’s great for your mental health to be able to escape work especially when things don't go to plan.
Joshua Williamson - PhD in Sports Science