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22% prisoners gamble while inside

Forward Trust survey finds 38% people in prison gamble and 22% gamble while inside.

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Prison gambling survey

Last week (18 December 2020) the Forward Trust published a new report: “Gambling Harm and Offenders: a survey of prisoners’ experiences”, the first survey of its kind in England and Wales, which took place in 14 prisons during August and September this year. The survey was conducted with Forward’s service users and generated responses from 224 prisoners, 9 per cent of Forward’s client base.


  • A fifth of respondents (22%) said they had spent money or bet something they own on gambling whilst in prison in the last 12 months – this is particularly striking as most prisoners have very little access to money to spend; the most popular forms were betting on sports or other events either through a bookmaker (10%) and live events (8%) whilst 7% said they gambled on football as one of the most common betting choices.
  • 38% of respondents outlined that during the 12 months before they were in prison they had spent money or bet something they own on gambling. Those who had participated in gambling during the 12 months before they were in prison were significantly more likely to have also participated in gambling in the last 12 months whilst in prison (88%).

Perception of gambling harm

  • Opinions varied on whether gambling in prison was seen as harmful – 29% of respondents strongly agreed/agreed that most gambling that happens in prison is just a bit of fun, while 19% disagreed/strongly disagreed with this statement; however, 14% strongly agreed/agreed that in their prison some people have been getting into serious debt because of gambling.
  • 4% of respondents outlined that their gambling directly contributed to the reason they are in prison, a further 2% outlined the type of crime or lifestyle they were involved with drove them to gamble more/more often.
  • 15% of respondents outlined that they had sometimes thought they have a gambling problem, a further 8% outlined this was the case most of the time or almost always.
  • 16% of respondent outlined their gambling had sometimes caused health problems, including stress, anxiety, a further 7% outlined this was the case most of the time or almost always.
  • 13% of respondents outlined that their gambling had sometimes caused financial problems for themselves or their household; a further 8% outlined this was the case most of the time or almost always.
  • 5% of respondents had lost their job due to their own gambling.
  • 11% of respondents outlined they’d experienced relationship issues due to their own gambling.
  • 14% of respondents had experienced debt due to their own gambling.

The impact of lockdown

  • Over half (57%) of respondents outlined their mental health had become worse since the Covid-19 lockdown. 48 prisoners stated that talking to family/friends or mail from family/friends had helped through them through lockdown. On the other hand, 28 participants outlined that nothing or no-one had been there to support them through the Covid-19 lockdown.
  • Nearly half (49%) of respondents strongly disagreed/disagreed that gambling had increased in prison since lockdown; only 7% of respondents strongly agreed/agreed.

Support to address gambling harm in prison

  • 75% of participants strongly agreed/agreed that gambling can become a serious addiction like drugs and alcohol; though 77% of respondents did not recognise their gambling hobby as a gambling ‘problem’ and 78% of participants claimed nobody had ever criticised their gambling.
  • Over half (57%of respondents thought it would be beneficial for them or other people to receive support for gambling problems whilst in prison.


There is growing awareness of and interest in the levels of gambling amongst people in contact with the criminal justice system. The Howard League is currently running a Commission into Gambling-related Crime and this Forward survey certainly suggests there is considerable unmet need. Now we have evidence of the long suspected need, it will be interesting to see if HMPPS starts commissioning services to meet this need.


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