Gambling program reduces prison numbers

The Statewide Gambling Therapy Service, built on Flinders University research, is helping to reduce overcrowding in South Australian prisons.

Success with the Gambling Intervention Program (GIP) provided by the State-funded program is providing offenders with a means to address and solve their gambling problems without being incarcerated.

More than 75 per cent of people who complete the program have achieved full recovery from their gambling issues.

An Australian first, the Statewide Gambling Therapy Service (SGTS) provides the treatment for people referred by the Treatment Intervention Court as part of the Gambling Intervention Program.

During a pilot of GIP conducted between July 2015 and April 2017, 20 offenders were diverted from prison.

With inmates costing the State $100,000 a year, the immediate saving for 20 patients starts at $2 million a year.

Ben Riley, left, Professor Malcolm Battersby, Amii Larsen, Tracey Nye, Sharon Harris, Margie Blackwood, Professor Michael Baigent and Sue Bertossa with the Minister for Mental Health Peter Malinauskas MLC, rear, at the SA Mental Health and Innovation Awards on 9 October.

Professor Michael Baigent, Director of the Statewide Gambling Therapy Service based at Flinders, says: “There is a continuous demand for the service and meeting that demand will depend on future funding.

“Gambling disorder is a mental illness that requires a comprehensive treatment intervention which the SGTS provides,” Professor Baigent says.

The Flinders Centre for Gambling Research in the University’s department of Psychiatry at Flinders’ College of Medicine and Public Health found the GIP treatment has the potential to play a significant role in SA’s prison overcrowding dilemma.

Research by the Centre found that 20% of SA prisoners are incarcerated due to crimes related to problem gambling.

This affects both men and women, with up to 75% of Indigenous Australian inmates indicating a history of problem gambling.

“These figures are high – they shocked me,” says Flinders PhD candidate Ben Riley, a therapist involved in the SGTS program and the Flinders Aboriginal Gambling Help Service.

“The Gambling Intervention Program shows we can address this very serious problem in a new way,” says Mr Riley, who would like to make the program more widely available.

“It’s currently only in Adelaide, so it needs to expand to other metropolitan jurisdictions, and through rural SA to really make a dent in the issue of overcrowded SA prisons,” he says.

The SA Statewide Gambling Therapy Service won a 2017 Southern Adelaide Local Health Network Award for Excellence in Innovation. It also was a finalist for the SA Mental Health Excellence and Innovation Awards presented at the Adelaide Pavilion this week.

“The pilot program has shown that it does its job,” says Mr Riley. “Now it has to be continued and expanded further, so the benefits are experienced throughout the wider community.”

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