UK Criminal Justice Oblivious To Problem Gambling, Says Charity

October 28, 2021
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The UK must do more to address the impacts of crime related to problem gambling, according to a UK prison reform charity.

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The UK must do more to address the impacts of crime related to problem gambling, according to a UK prison reform charity.

The Howard League for Penal Reform wants the Ministry of Justice to review how the criminal justice system trains and raises awareness of problem gambling among practitioners, as well as look into how it can improve its specialist support services.

Additionally, the charity called on the Sentencing Council for England and Wales to “guide improvements” to ensure problem gambling-related crimes are “appropriately dealt with by the courts”.

The recommendations follow the latest Howard League Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling briefing published on Wednesday (October 27).

The briefing summarises the evidence the commission has already uncovered as part of its three-year schedule ending in 2022.

“Although there has been a growing understanding that gambling addiction is a behavioural disorder, and one which can lead to crime, problem gambling is not considered to be a mitigating factor in sentencing in the way mental health problems or drug and alcohol addiction are,” Lord Goldsmith QC, chair of the commission, said.

Prisons in the UK do not screen for signs of problem gambling, meaning there is a reliance on probation practitioners to spot the signs of problematic gambling in convicts.

However, these practitioners are only provided with very limited guidance on how to supervise people with gambling addiction or the treatment services that are available to them.

Despite this, Lord Goldsmith said “pockets of good practice” exist, as the commission praised the efforts made when police make first contact with offences related to problem gambling.

“But far more work needs to be done across the system to tackle this issue and reduce crime,” according to Lord Goldsmith.

The Hertfordshire Problem Gambling Project and the Cheshire Pilot – Screening for Problem Gambling at Point of Arrest, which both run with the help of charity GamCare, were provided as examples of best practices within the criminal justice system.

The commission consists of 16 members, including criminal justice and public health academics, gambling industry experts and people with lived experience of addiction.

Its aim is to shine a light on the links between problem gambling and crime, the impact it has on society and what action should be taken to address these issues.

The commission began its work in 2019 by receiving written evidence from various gambling and criminal justice stakeholders, academics and treatment experts.

Written evidence helped the commission form the remit of its own research, by highlighting existing practices dealing with problem gambling-related crime and gaps in research into gambling-related harms.

An international literature review then followed, leading the commission to say in a study released last year that problem gambling can be linked to crime throughout the United States, Australia and much of Europe, but definitive research is lacking.

The commission also held a series of hearings with representatives ranging from the Gambling Commission to witnesses with lived experience of problem gambling and crime.

Evidence from these sessions reinforced that the gambling industry has the best understanding of crime's relationship with problem gambling.

This is partly due to the Gambling Commission having a licensing objective to prevent “gambling from being a source of crime”. Gambling-related crime is also acknowledged in the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms.

However, the evidence sessions revealed criminal justice stakeholders often completely overlook problem gambling when dealing with criminals.

Witnesses also highlighted the limited impact police have due to their lack of resources to deal with mental health or to offer addiction support.

These findings were supported by a separate online survey looking into magistrates’ awareness of problem gamblers in court, their practices handling problem gambling cases and their views on how courts can better account for problem gambling.

More than 650 magistrates participated in the survey, which found “there is little or no focussed understanding of the relationship between problem gambling and crime”, according to the commission’s latest briefing.

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