In the first survey of its kind, 23 per cent of prisoners reported that they think they have a gambling problem. Over half (57 per cent) of respondents think support to address gambling harm should be offered in prison.
The survey of prisoners’ experiences of gambling, the first of its kind in England and Wales, was conducted by The Forward Trust and took place in 14 prisons during August and September 2020. While 4 per cent of respondents outlined that their gambling directly contributed to the reason they are in prison, and 2 per cent outlined that their crime or lifestyle drove them to gamble, many others identified gambling as the cause of major problems in their life – 5 per cent had lost their job due to their gambling, 11 per cent had experienced relationship issues, and 14% had experienced debt.
Gambling and the harm it can cause was also prevalent within prison. Despite having access to little money while in custody, over 1 in 5 respondents (22 per cent) said they had gambled whilst in prison in the last 12 months, mainly on sporting events. Though 29 per cent of respondents thought gambling in prison was just a ‘bit of fun’, 14 per cent had witnessed other prisoners getting into serious debt.
Most respondents did not think that gambling in prisons had increased during lockdown (a time when prisoners have been confined to their cells with no family visits allowed, and little access to interventions or meaningful activity such as education), though over half (57%) of respondents said their mental health had become worse.
Mike Trace, CEO of The Forward Trust, says: “As the leading provider of treatment and support to tackle drug and alcohol addiction in prison, we have long recognised gambling as a related problematic behaviour for our clients. This ground-breaking survey confirms the prevalence of the problem and the problems it generates, as well as its contribution to crime. The findings clearly point to the urgent need to develop and test a range of programmes to address the problem.”
The survey has been funded through a regulatory settlement which has been approved by the Gambling Commission.
Helen Rhodes, Gambling Commission Director of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, said: “We were keen to support this survey, which was funded through a regulatory settlement, as well as the action taken by the Forward Trust to offer support to prevent harm during COVID. It shows in part what the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms is all about – building a greater understanding of gambling harms and then working in partnership to effectively tackle those harms. We are very positive about the opportunities for collaboration across the criminal justice field to prevent and reduce harms associated with gambling.”