Compulsion, convergence or crime? Criminal justice contact as a form of gambling harm

Watch this space for the launch of the CIJ’s report on the intersection of gambling and the criminal justice system on 24 October. Commissioned by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation to examine this issue, the CIJ’s resulting report suggests that gambling may be a feature of offenders’ lives in more ways than the community might expect – a ‘sleeper’ issue, as project participants described it. Yet the overwhelming presence of mental illness, Acquired Brain Injury, family violence; childhood trauma; drug and alcohol abuse; homelessness and other forms of vulnerability in offender populations mean that the existence of less visible problems like gambling is not always clear.

What’s more, despite recommendations that relevant data collection occur, the legal system does not ask any questions about the presence of gambling within offender populations, outside specific and quite limited contexts. This meant that the CIJ’s task was to start to draw together the information which does exist, but also to open a door for it to be collected in the future.

The CIJ’s work found that there are multiple pathways between gambling and offending, with the impact of gambling on vulnerable populations compounding the risk of contact with the law. Just as importantly, the CIJ’s consultations and analysis of case law suggests that the legal system may not be responding in the way we might expect. This may mean that there are people in custody (and therefore costing the taxpayer) simply because we have failed to grapple with gambling addiction or the harm that people experience in any meaningful way. The CIJ’s report lays the foundations not only for more useful collection of information, but also for clinical and legal understanding to start to be brought together so that contact with the criminal justice system might become a positive intervention, not just a further form of gambling harm.