HL Deb 02 March 2004 vol 658 cc543-4

2.42 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assistance is available for prison inmates with gambling addiction problems.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, some prisons have established links with organisations such as Gamblers Anonymous and GamCare and provide assistance for prisoners with gambling addiction problems by individual referrals and occasionally through groups. The help provided is left to the initiative of individual prison establishments.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Has he seen the letter published in the latest issue of GamCare news from a gentleman who signs himself "Jack"? He is inside Wormwood Scrubs and describes in graphic detail how he went out on parole, borrowed £500 from a friend and put it on a horse which, he says, is still running. He was charged with theft and went back inside with an extended sentence. He says that had he been suffering from a drugs addiction he would have received immediate treatment, but that no similar treatment is available for gambling addiction. Will my noble friend ensure that standards are applied across the board and that as gambling addiction problems grow, as I fear they may with the passage of the proposed gambling Bill, cases such as this can be dealt with?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question. My gratitude extends to him for supplying me with a copy of the letter posted to GamCare by Jack. Facilities are available in Wormwood Scrubs and I have asked officials to ensure that the services of GamCare and Gamblers Anonymous are advertised more widely within the prison estate. They provide a valuable link and valuable support to those who identify themselves as having a gambling addiction problem.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, are prisoners allowed to buy lottery tickets?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, prisoners are not allowed to buy lottery tickets in prison.

Viscount Falkland

My Lords, as all those serving sentences in prison are probably no strangers to the world of betting, should not those whose crimes have resulted directly from their pathological gambling addiction be of most concern to us? Does the Minister have statistics showing the number of prisoners whose crime is directly related to pathological gambling?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, there is no great wodge of reliable statistics on this issue. However, last year Oasis carried out a new offender assessment programme and identified from an assessment questionnaire involving 711 prisoners that just 14—approximately 2 per cent—said that gambling was a problem. Three of that number said it was linked to their offending.

I ought to add the important caveat that that was not a highly representative sample, so the figures are only indicative. But it identifies a problem, which is small by comparison with many others that prisoners bring. It indicates there is a real need and the Prison Service provides access and facilities for contact with those organisations which can provide help and support to those who suffer from a gambling addiction problem.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, in view of the fact that there are only 12 branches of Gamblers Anonymous in prisons, do the Government have plans to encourage the Prison Service to extend that number?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for making that point. It is important to remember that if there is an identified problem—if an individual prisoner reports it in his original assessment—the prisoner will be put in contact with Gamblers Anonymous or a similar organisation. The service is provided on demand. Some prisons provide self-help and support groups within the prison without that necessary contact first being made, but it depends on the pressure of demand. We try to ensure that there is appropriate support and care in each establishment when it is required.