Prison Service Journal28 Issue 248
Reoffending is one of the greatest socio-economic
burdens currently facing the UK, costing taxpayers
around £18.1 billion a year1. Recent studies show
that 48 per cent of ex-prisoners reoffend within a
12-month period, exacerbating the current prison
overcrowding crisis2. The benefits of reducing
recidivism are obvious, but viable pathways to
this outcome have yet to be elucidated and
executed. The twofold solution to this problem is
proposed in the present practice note. Firstly, we
need to change the way prisoners think about
themselves, aiming to bond prisoners more tightly
to mainstream society and law-abiding values. In
doing so, opportunities for employment become
more viable. Secondly, we need to increase
society-at-large’s determination in bringing
former prisoners back into the fold. The Twinning
project is a new initiative that promises to help us
accomplish both goals.
The Twinning Project
The Twinning Project, launched in October 2018,
pairs prisons with their local football clubs to deliver
training programmes for people in prison. The project
builds on the ongoing efforts of many football clubs’
prison-based community outreach programmes, by
connecting even more clubs with their local prisons
nationwide (Table 1). By the end of 2019, 45 major
football clubs were paired with one or more prisons in
the UK, with active interventions in over 40 prisons—
including men’s, women’s, young offenders’ institutes
(YOIs) and categories D, C, B, and long term / high
security. Crucial to the Twinning Project’s success is its
leadership by two pivotal figures across the football and
prison sectors: David Dein, former Vice-Chairman of the
FA (Football Association), Vice-Chairman of Arsenal,
president of the Arsenal Ladies Team, and creator of the
British Premier League in the 1990s; and Jason
Swettenham, Head of Prison Industries, Catering and
Physical Education in HM Prison Service in England and
Wales, with a responsibility for Physical Education
nationally. The Twinning Project capitalises on some of
the most powerful collective identities in the country—
football brands and clubs—to deliver prison-specific,
football industry-recognised training. The project has
been welcomed by both the Ministry of Justice (MoJ)
and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service
(HMPPS), with many prisons eager to join the scheme.
Specifically, the project relates to HMPPS’ priority to
reduce reoffending in adults and young people.
From practical assistance to changing identities
The initial aim of the Twinning Project was to offer
people in prison opportunities to gain qualifications
that could help guide them toward employment on
release, thus reducing reoffending and associated costs
The Twinning Project: how football, the
beautiful game, can be used to reduce
Dr Martha Newson is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion,
University of Oxford and Professor Harvey Whitehouse is the Director of the Centre for the
Study of Social Cohesion
Table 1. Quick guide to the Twinning Project
Number of associated
46 across leagues (all FA clubs, Premier League and EFL )
How long do
6-12 weeks, depending on club and prison prefere nces, 20 — 40 hours.
How are they
Varied, depending on club / prison preferences, e.g. weekly / twice weekly.
Who are they
Professional football coaches, with support from phy sical education
instructor (PEIs) who are specialist prison officers
Are there incentives
Puma football kit, qualification (which may be recogn ised by FA),
psychological benefits of allegiance to a club.
What programmes are
Coaching is the most common programme (a nd the only FA-devised
programme, that is Leadership in Sport), stewardin g and refereeing
offered at some prisons.
Is it just football?
Mostly, but there are some Rugby League an d Rugby Union exceptions
(presently two clubs).
What is the cohort
10-16, dependent on club / prison.
Is there any through
the gate support?
Planned by many clubs, but yet to be formalised by t he Twinning Project.
Who funds the
Initially via club trusts, new programmes also funde d by the Twinning
How are clubs paired
Majority are connected via proximity and resettlement areas of the priso ns
involved, aside from a minority of former pairings pre-dating the Twinning
Who is eligible?
Most participants are nearing the end of their term and a risk assessment
is conducted to ensure that participants are suitable. This includes what
risk they are to others and what incentive level the y are on.
Who is excluded?
Prisoners on the basic level of the Incentives and Earn ed Privileges Scheme
are excluded. Most clubs exclude people convicted of sexual offences due
to their own legal and safeguarding requireme nts.
How are participants
Prisoners are invited to apply to clubs through advertise ment in the gym or
on residential units. Clubs select on the merit of good b ehaviour and
prison officer recommendations. A number of site s will use interviewing
methods to build on the importance of participation and link to
1. Newton, A. et al. (2019). Economic and social costs of reoffending. Ministry of Justice analytical report.
2. MacDonald M. (2018). Overcrowding and its impact on prison conditions and health. International journal of prisoner health 14: 65-68.
Prison Service JournalIssue 248 29
to the tax-payer. Employment opportunities are a well-
researched factor associated with reoffending3,
particularly when coupled with lack of
accommodation4. Indeed, lack of employment appears
to be a fundamental driver of the largest reoffending
category—theft (over £9m a year, double that of the
next largest reoffending category, violence)5. But this is
only one of the challenges facing ex-prisoners hoping
to change their lives.
As well as offering routes to employment, the
Twinning Project offers participants something more: a
positive social identity. According to social identity
theory, central to reoffending behaviours are
perpetrators’ identities: their sense of self, the groups
they belong to (or are excluded
from), and the values associated
with these identities6. Gaining
employment after release
depends, in part, on adopting
alignments with law-abiding
groups and values that have the
power to motivate behaviour7.
We already know that football is
a powerful motivator, causing
fans to travel across the globe for
a game, and even put life and
limb at risk to defend their
groups8. Can this group passion
be harnessed for social good?
Could football foster positive
social identities powerful enough
to re-write prisoners’ self-
narratives? We are leading research at the University of
Oxford to analyse the short- and long-term impact of
the Twinning Project and the role social bonding might
play in its success.
One particularly intense form of social bonding—
which is deeply personal, and thus motivational—
involves the fusion of personal and group identities.
Identity fusion is a reliable predictor of charitable acts,
loyalty to the group, and even willingness to lay down
one’s life for others9. Fusion has been studied in many
special populations, including football fans and
‘hooligans’ across four continents10. In these highly
‘fused’ groups, individuals report family-like bonds. This
‘psychological kinship’ means
that fused people deeply value
the lives of all group members,
are committed to the group, and
want to stick by them11. For ex-
prisoners, a lack of social
support—particularly in the form
of a stable family—is a major
factor contributing to
reoffending12. The Twinning
Project may be able to provide a
foundational set of experiences
for re-building this void in social
support and belonging.
Rosie Meek’s work into
prison service sports programmes
has paved the way for academic
research into sport’s potential to
turn prisoners’ lives around13. However, just one
academic study connecting reoffending and identity
Project may be able
to provide a
foundational set of
experiences for re-
building this void in
social support and
3. Graffam J and Hardcastle L. (2007). Ex-prisoners and ex-offenders and the employment connection: Assistance plus acceptance.
Vocational education and training for adult prisoners and offenders in Australia: 47-66.
4. May C, Sharma N and Stewart D. (2008). Factors linked to reoffending: a one-year follow-up of prisoners who took part in the
Resettlement Surveys 2001, 2003 and 2004. Research Summary 5.
5. Newton, A. et al. (2019). Economic and social costs of reoffending. Ministry of Justice analytical report.
6. Monahan, J. (2017). The individual risk assessment of terrorism: Recent developments. The handbook of the criminology of terrorism:
520-534; Tajfel, H. and Turner, J. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In: Austin WG and Worchel S (Ed.s) The social
psychology of intergroup relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks / Cole, 33-47.
7. Whitehouse H and Fitzgerald R. (under review) Fusion and reform: the potential for identity fusion to reduce recidivism and improve
8. Newson M. (2017) Football, Fan Violence, and Identity Fusion. International Review for the Sociology of Sport.
9. Swann W., et al. (2009). Identity fusion: The interplay of personal and social identities in extreme group behavior. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology 96: 995-1011; Swann W., et al. (2012). When group membership gets personal: A theory of identity fusion.
Psychological Review 119: 441-456; Whitehouse, H., and Lanman, J. (2014). The Ties That Bind Us: Ritual, fusion, and identification.
Current Anthropology 55: 674-695.
10. Newson, M., Buhrmester, M., and Whitehouse, H., (2016). Explaining Lifelong Loyalty: The Role of Identity Fusion and Self-Shaping
Group Events. PloS one 11: e0160427; Newson, M., et al. (2018). Brazil’s Football Warriors: Social bonding and inter-group violence.
Evolution and Human Behavior 39(6): 675-683;Knijnik J and Newson M. (Under review) Personal agency, identity fusion and football
fandom in Australia: the case of Western Sydney. Soccer & Society; Bortolini, T., et al. (2018). Identity fusion predicts pro-group
behaviours: targeting nationality, religion or football in Brazilian samples. British Journal of Social Psychology. DOI:
11. Buhrmester, M., et al. (2015). When terror hits home: Identity fused Americans who saw Boston bombing victims as “family”
provided aid. Self and Identity 14: 253-270.
12. Farmer, M. (2017). The importance of strengthening prisoners’ family ties to prevent reoffending and reduce intergenerational crime.
Ministry of Justice.
13. Meek R and Lewis G. (2014) The impact of a sports initiative for young men in prison: Staff and participant perspectives. Journal of
Sport and Social Issues 38: 95-123.
Prison Service Journal30 Issue 248
fusion has been conducted to date (in an Australian
prison)14 . Nonetheless, social identity theory has
already shown that positive identity construction is
critical to reducing reoffending in the criminology
literature15. Fusion tends to be a stronger, more reliable
predictor of pro-social behaviours, which the proposed
intervention aims to achieve. With regards to
desistance theory, whereby crime is reduced or entirely
refrained from, fusion theory particularly connects to
Maruna’s second and third perspectives: life transitions
and their associated social bonds, and narrative
changes in both personal and social identities16.
Specifically, the Twinning Project provides
opportunities for the social
resources required to identify
and cement positive social
identities and commitments17.
Equally important to
reducing recidivism is a need to
establish host communities that
show commitment to ex-
prisoners, supporting and
encouraging their efforts to go
straight. Football clubs, with their
‘tribal’ identities, are uniquely
placed to help ex-prisoners back
into the fold, with assistance by
coaches and peers18. With this
two-way fusion—or, social
bonding—we expect to see a
host of improved employability
markers, increased self-esteem,
and higher levels of cooperation
and altruism. Even participants who score low on
empathy19or high on impulsivity20, that is those at
particular risk of reoffending, may be less likely to
reoffend, provided that they have become fused to
more positive social targets.
Many factors contribute to recidivism. While we
expect such a high calibre endeavour as the Twinning
Project to enjoy a great deal of success in reducing
reoffending among its participants, it is likely that some
people will still reoffend. For instance, people with
stable families on the outside are less likely to reoffend,
but whether this is due to fusion within families or
other factors remains unclear. Can the Twinning Project
provide the ‘kinship’ currently lacked by some ex-
prisoners? Following survey, interview, and prison data
evaluations, the Twinning Project will be better placed
to advise on the through-the-gate programmes so
many clubs are seeking to devise.
Looking forward, the success stories that may
emerge from this project have the possibility to
translate into peer-based
coaching and community-led,
post-probation initiatives under
future strands of the Twinning
Project umbrella. This might
include, for example, a
Fellowship of participants who
remain in contact with their club
post-release, or who go on to use
their qualifications in the football
industry or community. Grouping
ex-prisoners in this socially
desirable way would not only
provide recognition for their
achievements, but give stability
to an emerging community.
There is also scope to extend the
programme both domestically
and internationally. At home,
evaluations will help reveal the
cognitive mechanisms underlying its success and
limitations, which can be built in to future interventions.
As the football market is truly international in scale,
there is scope for cross-border communication and
Evaluations will also help unpack the feasibility of
offering randomly-allocated programmes, whereby
eligible prisoners have equal opportunities of
participation. In research, random allocation is a gold
standard, but there are other merits that could
prisoners in this
way would not only
give stability to an
14. Whitehouse H and Fitzgerald R. (under review) Fusion and reform: the potential for identity fusion to reduce recidivism and improve
15. Shapland, J. and Bottoms, A. (2011). Reflections on social values, offending and desistance among young adult recidivists. Punishment
& Society 13: 256-282.
16. Maruna, S. (2000) Desistance from crime and offender rehabilitation: A tale of two research literatures. Offender Programs Report 4:
1-13; Weaver, B., and McNeill, F. (2010). Travelling hopefully: Desistance theory and probation practice. In: Brayford J, Cowe F and
Deering J (Ed.s) What Else Works? Creative Work with Offenders. Routledge: Willan Cullompton.
17. Uggen, C., Manza, J., and Thompson, M. (2006). Citizenship, democracy, and the civic reintegration of criminal offenders. The Annals
of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 605: 281-310.
18. Morris, D. (1981). The soccer tribe: Cape London; Whitehouse, H. (2018). Dying for the group: Towards a general theory of extreme
self-sacrifice. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 41.
19. Jolliffe D and Farrington DP. (2004) Empathy and offending: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Aggression and violent behavior 9:
20. Ireland JL and Archer J. (2008) Impulsivity among adult prisoners: A confirmatory factor analysis study of the Barratt Impulsivity Scale.
Personality and Individual Differences 45: 286-292.
Prison Service JournalIssue 248 31
contribute to the Twinning Project’s long-term standing.
First, random allocation would reduce reliance on
prison and football staff selecting prisoners for the
project, which could disadvantage some prisoners,
especially with regards to ‘good behaviour’ (see Table
1). Instead, reaching prisoners at highest risk of
offending, rather than only those who do well in
interviews, could lead to impact with populations who
are usually regarded as uncooperative or too
challenging to rehabilitate. This initiative does not
neglect the knowledge and expertise that prison
officers offer when helping select participants, but
rather emphasises the potential of this nationwide
reoffending scheme (endorsed and executed primarily
by the Premier League) to rehabilitate the lives of
those disenfranchised prisoners at most of risk of a
lifetime of institutionalisation. With increased
employment opportunities, health benefits of
engaging in an active lifestyle, and an all-important
family — albeit fictive kin, the ‘football family’ —
sports initiatives such as the Twinning Project have
the potential to access some of the hardest to reach
and vulnerable prison populations for meaningful and