Report claims UK prison system is hotbed of problem gambling activity

Gambling is deemed a “normal part of prison life” according to a UK-based report from Russell Webster.

Gambling is deemed a “normal part of prison life” according to a UK-based report from Russell Webster

Entitled ‘Gambling and crime: An exploration of gambling availability and culture in an English prison’, the research, which included 282 volunteer participants, found that 30.3 per cent of contributors reported that gambling, such as card/dice games, as well as sports and ball games, were seen as a prison norm.

The volunteers, who were recruited at a category B, adult male prison located in England, faced questions from the survey that were administered between March 2018 and February 2019, has 66 per cent of participants (185) who had reported gambling before imprisonment, at some stage during their lifetime. 

Of the aforementioned 185 participants, just over a quarter, 28 per cent, were in the moderate or problem gambling risk categories, with the common types of gambling including machines, sports, horses/greyhounds, lottery, casino, online and card/dice games.

Furthermore, 126 participants, 45 per cent, reported gambling whilst in prison, with 92 per cent (116) of those people having gambled prior to incarceration, while 10 (eight per cent) had not reported gambling prior to their entry but did do so once in prison. 

Of those who reported that they gambled in prison, 23 (19 per cent) reported that they borrowed money from other prisoners in order to gamble. 

Illegally held cash and canteen items were the main currencies used for prison gambling. Furthermore, one in five prisoners reported borrowing from other prisoners to support their in-prison gambling and, of those who had borrowed, over half had not repaid the debt.

Relating to the common types of gambling, ‘Other’, which represented 14 per cent of respondents who admitted to gambling on it, is, according to the report, included gambling on sexual favours, what happens on TV, time of cell unlock and ‘Fight Club’. 

The report assumed that this ‘fight club’ was organised fights, sometimes where prisoners are forced to fight other prisoners by their peers, however, it should be noted that the researchers were not able to clarify this. 

The researchers also found that winning prizes, excitement/challenge and relieving boredom were the most common reasons for gambling in prison.

Despite the aforementioned, the report did highlight various limitations to its findings, the main being that the report was a cross-sectional study, which does not allow for the inference of causation and has not allowed for the mapping of changes in gambling behaviour over the course of an individual’s contract with the prison system. 

Another limitation was that the data collected for this report was from a single prison site. Further studies across multiple prisons is required, according to the researchers, ”as it would portray different diversities due to an array in demographics, offence type and length of stay, as well as function and security category”. 

The report did conclude that gambling prior to imprisonment was not always associated with continued gambling but did note that distinguishing between high-risk gambling — intruding into everyday life — and low risk gambling was helpful. 

Risk categories were related to different gambling behaviours and different gambling motives. As some in-prison gambling was associated with high risk behaviours, others have linked these consequences to violence, poor mental health and suicide-related behaviours. 

Russell Webster emphasised that, due to the above, it is important to extend this research to identify those particularly at gambling risk in prison and would be strengthened using a longitudinal design across multiple prison sites.