Addiction is a disease that can affect people in different ways. We’ve all heard stories of people battling addictions to drugs, alcohol, and sex, and we know how it affects their relationships, their career, and their whole life. Celebrities like Wayne Rooney and Andross Townsend have spoken out about problem gambling's affect on their lives.
Some people even turn to crime to satisfy their addiction, with rehabilitation provided to help criminals get clean. But how much do we know about the role of gambling addiction in crime, and how are we supporting problem gamblers in prison?
Well, it turns out not an awful lot, according to a new report by the Howard League for Penal Reform. The UK charity’s goal is to reduce the number of people in prison by building safer communities and spreading important information, and they set their eyes on propblem gambling by launching The Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling back in June 2019.
The commission has uncovered during their research that in the past 25 years, there have been less than 50 peer-reviewed studies into the links between gambling addiction and crime, compared to the thousands that have researched the role of alcohol and drug addiction in crime. A review was commissioned, collecting and correlating the evidence found in these studies.
In the research, the commission determined that whilst there was not much research, there is a consistency in the findings, which shows high numbers of crimes are committed in relation to a gambling addiction.
The report has determined that the crimes committed are not just theft and fraud that fund a problem gambler’s habit, but also include other crimes that are commiteted as a result of suffering from an addiction, including desperate street robberies, domestic abuse, and child neglect.
However, whilst these crimes are so clearly linked to the behaviour of someone suffering from an addiction, in the UK, gambling addiction is not always being factored into the sentencing or care they receive in prison.
In Canada, those who are identified as problem gamblers are not simply thrown in prison, an environment where gambling is prevalent among inmates and addiction can be made worse. Instead, treatment is preferred, and convicts are instead helped to overcome their addiction.
The studies find that in the UK, this is not the case, as gambling is not seen as a mitigating circumstance in the same way that alcohol and drug addictions are. The report shows a clear need for re-evaluation, as gambling addiction can sometimes be just as damaging.
The study also finds that when in prison, gambling addicts are not always given the care and mental health assistance that other, more visible addictions are. This not only leads to further damage as they continue to gamble in prison, but it also leads to repeat offenders, as the issues are not being tackled at the source, leaving problem gamblers to fend for themselves as victims of their own addiction.
The commission’s review of these studies is just the start of a deep dive into the links between problem gambling and crime, and you can read the full review and sign up for future updates by visiting the Howard League for Penal Reform website. If you are at all worried about your gambling habits, please read our responsible gambling guides.