Diverting people with gambling problems from the CJS

Work with offenders on new practice to address gambling-related harms

There is increasing awareness of and concern about the number of people whose offending is driven by their gambling. The Howard league Commission on Gambling and Crime has been conducting much needed research into this area over the last couple of years with the overall conclusion being that the number of people in contact with the criminal justice system who gamble has grown massively since the availability of online gambling. The other main conclusion is that provision to help people with gambling problems is massively underdeveloped.

For these reasons it is of particular interest that the Centre for Justice Innovation has just published a description of a screening and diversion scheme in Cheshire where ten police force areas have developed and embedded a gambling screening treatment and diversion pathway.


The development of these pathways involved a strategic steering group; working in collaboration with Senior Police Managers, Healthcare Professionals, Liaison and Diversion staff and National Health Services. At the heart of this work was prevention and education – ensuring progression towards a clear vision for the implementation of the public health prevention plan which included a combination of interventions, treatment and support – by delivering a national treatment and support service provision, placing the needs of the users at the heart of national strategies.

The screening process is based around a simple four question protocol called the Gamble Aware Screening Tool General (GAST-G). The value of this tool is that it is  designed for non-specialist frontline staff to help them identify if the presenting person is affected by problematic gambling and then to engage them in the most appropriate intervention.

The tool asks four questions which can help determine whether someone is being harmed by gambling. The four question are reproduced below:

In the last 12 months, have you:

  1. Bet more than you could really afford to lose?
  2. Been criticised for your betting, or been told that you have a gambling problem?
  3. Felt guilty about the way you gamble, or what happens when you gamble?
  4. Been affected by someone else’s gambling?

Following screening, individuals may require a brief intervention with some advice and guidance, or they may require a referral into a comprehensive specialist and support service provider like Beacon Counselling Trust. Cheshire police have also created the opportunity for a person presenting with a gambling related harm to have access to an alternative criminal justice diversion programme via community resolutions and conditional cautions.

Cheshire police use the questions from the GAST G screening tool, to screen 98 per cent of those in custody at the point of entry into the criminal justice system and offer each individual with a bespoke consultation with a healthcare professional whilst detained, or as a voluntary attendee to a police station. This process provides the opportunity for an individual to receive the screening questions for gambling related harm, collecting valuable well-being information which enables the appropriate signposting into treatment.


Staff training has, unsurprisingly, been central to the project. An education and awareness training programme, created by the Beacon Counselling Trust and provided to Police Custody Officers and Liaison and Diversion staff, enables them to address gambling related harms in custody suites. The “Bet You Can Help programme” - described as a gambling first aid course - was developed to facilitate early identification of people presenting with gambling issues. This enables the police and healthcare professionals to facilitate diversion from the criminal justice system, provide support, and to reduce victims of gambling related harm through criminality.

If you are interested in this scheme, you can read a full description of the pilot here.