Neil Platt, Project Lead and Clinical Director at Beacon Counselling Trust (BCT), and Detective Inspector Brian Faint, Senior Investigative Officer at Cheshire Police, spoke to us about what inspired and motivated their work with individuals with gambling addictions.
Neil said that the motivation and background to the gambling screening pilot was borne out of the absence of a “systemic approach to addressing problematic gambling in the UK’s criminal justice system”. From 2005, assistance for those with problematic gambling issues was removed from the NHS’s scope of focus and treatment and support is accessed through a commissioned process through GambleAware and GamCare. Through this pathway BCT is the Regional Treatment Provider for the North West and North Wales.
He emphasised the lack of provisions for those with gambling addictions both within the infrastructure of the criminal justice system and wider support services.
How the pilot came about
Whilst working in the USA, Neil saw the referrals made and services offered to those with problematic gambling issues who were also involved in criminal behaviour and their unique diversion system. After seeing how this worked and after reviewing the academic evidence, he was inspired to bring those ideas over to the UK and work towards trialling a similar service here.
The success of the work in the US, coupled with the lack of services and provisions in the UK, really gave impetus to the pilot and also provided a knowledge base. Neil said that where the service was implemented in the US, there was a 17-30% positive screening for problematic gambling at point of arrest.
On Brian’s side, as a senior investigative officer at Cheshire police, the motivation that drove this pilot came from his own experience in his role. He came to realise that a significant amount of fraud that was being committed was a result of problem gambling. Whilst this issue was identified, he recognised that there was nothing locally or nationally that addressed problem gambling. From there he started to explore these issues further and consider the different avenues of how this could be addressed by reaching out to different organisations.
Informed by this knowledge and research, they have built and continue to work off of theories that have looked at problem gambling and shown that pathological gamblers are, in almost all cases, involved in criminality. Knowing that criminality is hugely costly to the UK, the gambling screening pilot can be seen as an undoubtedly positive measure.
What the evidence says
Neil explained that NHS evidence tells us that around 1% of people in the UK have a gambling problem but various international studies evidence that problematic gambling is over-represented in those that are arrested. Following the pilot in Cheshire, 13% of those arrested and screened fall under the problematic gambling category. Cheshire is the first constabulary to take this up in the country. Neil has acknowledged that it has been a big task for the police and the wider criminal justice arena to understand, assimilate, and engage with the issue of problematic gambling and its effect within the criminal justice system. Likewise, understanding how to implement gambling screening has been also been a large process. The pilot finished a year ago and the gambling screening is now an embedded practice, reflecting its success.
At the moment, BCT are currently doing some work with the Howard League to see how this pilot and this work could become more systemic and embedded as practice. Greater Manchester police and authorities in Birmingham and Avon & Somerset have all shown interest in considering gambling screening for those who come through the criminal justice system.
On the subject of gambling screening having prominence in the criminal justice system, Neil notes that embedding practice requires engagement from all branches of the system. He says that the response to this work, problematic gambling, and whether or not it would be adopted can be “personality driven” and entirely dependent on how much the ideas are engaged with by local constabularies and police and crime commissioners. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that there are local variations that affect the embedding of schemes in different areas. Neil hopes that gambling screening will become an embedded practice across the criminal justice system.
The screening process is based around a simple four question protocol called the GAST G (Gamble Aware Screening Tool General). It is a screening tool designed for non-specialist front facing services to be able to identify if someone is affected by problematic gambling and then to engage them at the appropriate level into the treatment system. Following screening, individuals may be identified as requiring a brief intervention with some advice and guidance or they may require a referral to a specialist service like BCT for more appropriate support.
Brian said that when the pilot first started, screening people who came into custody gave them data they had never previously collected before and showed the extent of problem gambling and that it was an issue that needed tackling. Ultimately, they wanted to give people the appropriate support and also “break the cycle of reoffending.”
The screening process does require those who have been arrested to be relatively upfront and open with their gambling problems. In Cheshire, all staff have been trained and this includes a whole range of people involved in the custody process whether that be police officers, investigating officers or those working in probation. Neil acknowledged the multi-agency aspect of their work is “absolutely” a reason for the success of their pilot and that there are weekly referrals.
Brian informed us that diversion is an option in these cases and the offender will go through the appropriate criminal justice procedure for the offence committed at a lower level of the criminal threshold without the requirement for them to attend court. He says that the appropriate criminal justice response is under review and is something they are looking to change through time, evidence, and data.
For more information about this work, contact Admin@beaconcounsellingtrust.co.uk
This case study was compiled and edited by Jaskirat Mann in 2018