SBC News Howard League raises alarm on Gambling Harms within Prison culture 

Howard League raises alarm on Gambling Harms within Prison culture 

UK penal reform organisation The Howard League has pointed its stakeholders to concerns raised by a study researching the “damaging impact of gambling in prison culture and safety”. 

A recent study conducted by the Commission on Crime and Gambling Related Harms has highlighted a problematic culture of gambling in prison and its negative outcomes on inmates. 

The research, undertaken since 2019, was led by Lord Peter Goldsmith QC in charge of a  “diverse team of academics and professionals with backgrounds in criminal justice and public health” who worked alongside experts in gambling and individuals with personal experiences of addiction. 

Titled “Exploring Gambling and its Role Within Prison Culture“, the study reveals that although gambling is not officially sanctioned in prison, it has become increasingly normalised in its day-to-day culture. 

The study, undertaken by 140 participants, including prisoners, staff, and family members of prisoners, is the deepest of its kind into gambling within the penal system. It sheds light on the normalisation of gambling in prisons and its potentially harmful consequences.

Participants noted that gambling served various purposes for prisoners, such as alleviating boredom, self-soothing, and building relationships. 

Of significance to inmates’ safety, the research also uncovered links between gambling and acts of bullying, manipulation, and violence within prisons.

Four sub-cultures were recognised relating to gambling activity, which led to negative consequences where some prisoners were forced to give favours, store drugs, or enforce violence, while others managed and enacted extreme violence and acts of humiliation.

Dr Sarah Lewis, Director of Prison Reform Solutions, said: “This report illuminates the relationship between prison culture and gambling-related harms, and demonstrates how cultural rules influence the way people in prison behave, as they strive to survive and seek meaning. It also highlights the urgent need to review prison regimes and the purpose of prison more broadly, so that gambling harms can be addressed across the prison system, through cultural change.   

“More research is needed to understand the role gambling plays in prison, with specific attention to how this new knowledge can be practically applied to prison practice, to improve the state of play.”   

Further negative impacts of gambling extended to mental health issues, with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide risks reported by the prisoners and staff. 

Researchers found that the prison environment was particularly detrimental to those already experiencing gambling-related harm and addiction.

Despite these issues, prison staff had limited awareness of gambling’s potential harms. Staff members who participated in the research did not view gambling as problematic and often considered it as “harmless betting.” In some cases, staff even encouraged gambling between prisoners to build rapport or maintain calm with one another. 

Dr Liz Riley, Head of Research at Betknowmore UK, said: “Within our prisons, the harms caused by gambling, including debt-related violence, go under-recognised.

“This peer research project explored all the ways in which gambling is part of the culture of a male prison. It highlights the need for a change in culture so that gambling harms are better understood by staff and prisoners, with services put in place to support those in need.”   

The report calls for HM Prison and Probation Service to review the role of gambling in prison and address the related harms. It recommends increased awareness, education, and training for prison staff and the inclusion of healthy alternatives to gambling within prison regimes. 

Additionally, the report suggests investment and collaborative action with people who have lived experience of prison and gambling to encourage safe behaviour and reduce gambling-related harm in prisons.

The Howard League underscores the urgent need for a change in prison culture to understand better and address the harms caused by gambling within prisons. As such,  recommendations need to be urgently implemented as “prisons can work towards creating a safer and more rehabilitative environment for all involved.”

Check Also

SBC News UKGC committed to measure evaluation of Gambling Review proposals

UKGC committed to measure evaluation of Gambling Review proposals

David Taylor, Head of Evidence Assurance and Evaluation at the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has outlined …

SBC News UKGC assists in illegal South Wales gambling bust 

UKGC assists in illegal South Wales gambling bust 

South Wales’ Tarian Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) has collaborated with the UKGC, HMRC and …

SBC News NHS: Sheffield clinic sees NGSN hit operating milestone

NHS: Sheffield clinic sees NGSN hit operating milestone

The NHS has reached an operating milestone in the support and development of the National …