Staffordshire University researchers are calling for a better understanding of problem gambling within the criminal justice system, more support for people who have committed a crime, and for this to be reflected in sentencing.
A new Staffordshire University report explores how problem gambling is understood and approached by sentencers in magistrates’ courts. It reveals that, although problem gambling is recognised as a mental health disorder, offending related to it is not being dealt with in an appropriate way
Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology Sarah Page, who authored the report, explained: “Our research with magistrates and stakeholders uncovered the need for sentencing guidance in England and Wales to be amended to acknowledge when gambling addiction is a mitigating factor in court cases and for the criminal justice system to better access effective treatment for those with gambling addiction.
“Gambling related crimes in our research were largely linked to theft, including theft from workplaces of up to hundreds of thousands of pounds and also domestic abuse. Problem gambling also features as an issue raised in childcare disputes in family courts. Problem gambling is damaging to individuals and their wider communities. We would like to see the government invest more into preventing gambling addiction in the first place and better supporting those with addictions.”
The report was produced in conjunction with the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Magistrates Association on behalf of the Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling which has been investigating the links between problem gambling and crime over the past two years. This research also features on the government’s Gambling Commission action map.
The Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling, chaired by Lord Goldsmith, also heard evidence from a wide range of witnesses including regulators, gambling companies, police, prison and probation workers, as well as personal testimony from people whose lives have been affected by crime linked to problem gambling. Its new briefing State of Play, authored by the Howard League for Penal Reform, summarises the evidence uncovered so far and makes recommendations to government and policymakers.
The inquiry found that problem gamblers typically turn to financial crime to maintain their addiction once all other assets have been exhausted and any stolen finances are in turn consumed through gambling. A confiscation order in such circumstances disproportionately lands on families and actively hampers the rehabilitation of an individual attempting to rebuild their life.
Staffordshire University’s report points to the important role played by the Sentencing Council and recommends that it should consider what improvements can be made to sentencing guidelines to ensure that the courts deal with problem gambling more appropriately.
Associate Professor in Criminology Dr Jo Turner, who is also a justice of the peace, contributed to the report. She added: “It is imperative that the sentencing council take on board the messages from this research and support magistrates in accessing appropriate training on this matter to enhance sentencing practice across England and Wales. The Magistrates’ Association, a partner in this research, is well placed to support with such developments.”
Read the full report Sentencers’ understanding and treatment of problem gamblers