Using Chess To Teach Life Skills

Prison systems in Canada and around the world have begun using the game of chess as a way to help rehabilitate prisoners. Carl Portman has led a prison chess program in the U.K. that he claims has positively impacted the disposition of convicted felons. He told Global News, “It’s actually perfect for prison. Chess is about making good choices.” He has heard back from numerous prisoners who have shared with him how the game has taught them to think before acting, to take responsibility for their actions, and live with the consequences.

Recent research explores how chess could change a prisoner’s brain. The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services in Ontario has initiated a program where a participant can show a judge a certificate that illustrates the life skills they have gained. The first trial run in Alberta spanned eight weeks with 12 prisoners participating in weekly instruction sessions, followed by two to three hours of game playing between the prisoners and volunteers.

This restorative justice approach helps the incarcerated person rehabilitate rather than punishing them (punitive justice), and is currently present not only in Canada and the U.K., but also in Brazil, Argentina, Malaysia, India, and the U.S. Last October, the third annual Intercontinental Online Chess Championship for Prisoners had 118 teams participating from 50 different countries. What outside-the-box programs has your organization implemented in an effort to demonstrate restorative justice to your guests?

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