Time for Action
Earlier this week (26 April, 2023), the Howard League’s Commission on Crime and Gambling Related Harms published its final report. The report calls for a “greater central drive” from the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, together with more funding to be provided locally and regionally, to develop a treatment and support infrastructure through the police, courts and prisons, which would help to reduce crime and enable more people to access services.
The Commission also recommends the creation of a national board to address crime linked to gambling – including senior representatives from the police, police and crime commissioners, prosecution, courts, probation, prisons, public health, victims’ advocates, and representation from those with lived experience of gambling-related harms related to crime.
The report comes as the government prepares to announce planned reforms to gambling laws, with a long-awaited White Paper expected soon. The Commission found that there is “an urgent need for ownership to be taken to reduce gambling harms related to crime both at political and strategic level and at operational policy and professional stakeholder level”.
Appetite for change
The Commission discovered that there is “appetite for reform” within the police, courts, prisons and probation, but found an “apparent absence of scrutiny” within government, by inspectors of government services and, largely speaking, by Parliamentarians. This has been by own experience of work in this area alongside GamCare over the last two years with a widespread acknowledgement among staff at all levels that gambling is an increasingly common driver of crime but little substantive work on the ground. There are a number of effective pilots in operation but no mainstream model – or the related resources – within the police, probation and prison systems.
The research published by the Commission pointed to a lack of understanding and support for those affected at each stage of the criminal justice system – at the police station, in the courtroom, on community sentences, in prison and on release.
This final report includes recommendations linked to four priorities: developing a strategic approach to gambling-related crime; enhancing the role of criminal justice agencies; integrating gambling-related crime into broader government action on gambling harms; and commissioning further research.
The recommendations include a call for better screening and assessment processes at multiple points of the criminal justice process and a mandatory requirement that, where gambling-related harms or potential gambling addiction are identified, pre-sentence reports are completed to advise the court on appropriate sentencing options that include support and treatment pathways.
The Commission also recommends that the voices of people with lived experience of gambling harms related to crime, including those affected by the gambling of others, should be integral to the development of guidance, training and support.
There are a set of specific recommendations aimed at the Ministry of Justice, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Sentencing Council, the Judicial College and His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, in respect of changes they could make to improve their handling of cases linked to gambling.
Finally, the Commission recommends that a joint Parliamentary select committee should be established to scrutinise cross-government action on gambling-related harms and its links to crime. In the longer term, this work could be continued by a group comprising government ministers, departmental leads and other organisations – a model similar to the existing Deaths in Custody Ministerial Group.
The report also raises the issue of the inappropriate confiscation of assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act, which can have a hugely detrimental and fundamentally unfair impact on the families of problem gamblers. The POCA legislation was primarily aimed at organised crime groups who hid their profits from drug dealing and other activities by buying property, expensive cars etc. It seems patently unfair to apply the same legislation to people who have mainly committed crime to fund their gambling and therefore have no assets from their illegal activity but are forced to lose family homes and face being in debt for the rest of their lives.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here