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News 7 September 2020

The Forward Trust wins funding to research gambling addiction during lockdown in 19 UK prisons

Forward will be tackling gambling in prisons with a new research project and information resources for prisoners who are being released.

With the current coronavirus lockdown, there is even greater strain on our collective mental health, which can lead to increased addictive behaviour, including gambling addiction – a significant issue in the UK and even greater in our prisons. The Forward Trust will be tackling this with a new project for which it has just received funding to research gambling addiction during lockdown in 19 prisons where it currently delivers drug and alcohol recovery services. The charity will also develop information packs that signpost prisoners who are being released to sources of support to address their gambling problems.

Gambling addiction is a significant issue in our society with over two million adults experiencing some level of gambling harm, including an estimated 340,000 ‘problem gamblers’ in the UK in 20161. Extreme gambling is recognised as a disorder by the World Health Organisation with implications for mental health and, for some, gambling addiction can result in suicide.

Based on Forward’s extensive experience working with over 10,000 offenders ever year, gambling addiction is believed to be particularly prevalent in prison and can co-occur with substance misuse and mental health problems. With the countrywide lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, most face-to-face delivery of one-to-one support and all group work with prisoners has stopped. This means that prisoners have been spending most of their time in their cells. Not only are they not able to receive much support for addiction problems at this time, but the lockdown situation means that prisoners are experiencing particular difficulties that may be exacerbating underlying gambling problems.

These include:

  • Long periods locked up without access to family visits or constructive activities, resulting in boredom that is known to trigger gambling (among other addictive behaviours), while also putting on ‘pause’ their treatment for addiction, with the risk of provoking relapse
  • Those being released from prison (either to their homes or, for those with no fixed above, to emergency homeless provision) risk being drawn to online gambling, particularly in the absence of face-to-face support or any form of outdoor social or leisure activity

To tackle this, Forward is:

  • Conducting a survey to assess the nature and extent of gambling during prison lockdown
  • Distributing workbooks to raise awareness of gambling problems together with guidance on how to tackle those problems (e.g. in-cell activity packs developed by GamCare)
  • Preparing release packs that signpost prisoners who are being released to sources of support to address their gambling problems

Forward’s Divisional Director of Business Development, Carwyn Gravell, explained:

“We are grateful to have received funding for this project that will help deliver the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harm. It will generate evidence on gambling-related harm amongst offenders during lockdown, as well as providing effective treatment and support for those who have already experienced harm. We are ideally placed to carry out this work, with extensive experience of providing integrated services to prisoners and people suffering from addiction.”

Helen Rhodes, Gambling Commission Programme Director Safer Gambling said:

“We are pleased that The Forward Trust is undertaking this important piece of research and associated interventions. What also interests us about this project is the collaboration with charities and organisations working with the criminal justice sector to minimise the harm caused by gambling addiction and Forward’s plan to share interim findings with key stakeholders to spread insights.”

This project started in summer 2020 and will generate findings this Autumn, which Forward is committed to sharing widely in order to support the development of a wider knowledge base in this area and achieve transformational change in the lives of as many people as possible.

Forward is working with the support of organisations such as GamCare, Breakeven and Beacon Counselling Trust to implement the project. It is funded through a regulatory settlement, which has been approved by the Gambling Commission.