Monday, May 20, 2024

Gambling addict says offenders need support in criminal justice system

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A woman who turned to crime to feed her gambling addiction has said it is important support services are available within the criminal justice system to assist in recovery.

Fiona spoke out about a new justice initiative which is helping to provide support to people who have offended due to gambling.

Northern Ireland has a higher proportion of people with a gambling problem than the rest of the UK and staff from the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) have been working with the charity GamLEARN to raise awareness.

PBNI director of operations Stephen Hamilton said it was important to understand why some people turn to crime because of gambling.

He said: “To help staff deal with this issue we have brought in the services of GamLEARN to work alongside our staff so they can better understand how gambling can lead to criminal behaviour and provide support to people whose lives have been harmed by gambling.

“The most recent survey on gambling in Northern Ireland identified 2.3% of the population as having a gambling problem; over four times higher than that recorded in Great Britain.

“Within probation’s caseload around 4% or 200 people have self-declared gambling to be a problem. However, we believe the number struggling with this addiction is much higher.

“We therefore brought in GamLEARN to work with staff so they could better understand how to deal with this issue which has a devastating impact on individuals but also their families.”

Northern Ireland has a higher proportion of people with a gambling problem than the rest of the UK
Gambling study Northern Ireland has a higher proportion of people with a gambling problem than the rest of the UK (Yui Mok/PA)

One of those who has turned to criminality because of gambling is Fiona, who was sentenced to a three-year probation order for a fraud offence.

She said: “Gambling took over every aspect of my life without me realising it, it was my escapism from dealing with grief and it brought me to my lowest point in my life.

“With the help of mental health services, probation and the family and friends I had left I started a new journey of recovery.

“In Northern Ireland there is a lack of support services here and faith helped me sustain the first three years in my recovery.

“In the last two years I have accessed various gambling support services within the UK and have trained as a peer supporter.

“When I entered probation there was very little support that they could provide so I am thrilled now that they are now working with GamLEARN to train staff and learn how to deal with people who may find themselves in the criminal justice system due to their gambling.”

Mr Hamilton said: “Gambling related harm can affect anyone regardless of gender or social class.

“We know from listening to service users like Fiona that many people who have contact with the criminal justice system encounter a lack of awareness and understanding about gambling and crime.

“We are therefore doing all we can to ensure our staff are informed and aware of how best to tackle this addiction.

“At this time of the year when there are increased financial pressures on families it is even more important to provide support to tackle this harmful addiction.”

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