Gambling behind bars? The situation in Québec's federal penitentiaries



For the vast majority of people, gambling is basically a pleasant pastime. It is indeed associated with recreational activities, since it meets almost the same needs, including curiosity, entertainment, relaxation, socialization and recognition.

However, gambling carries the risk of abuse. Although no one is truly immune to addiction, the scientific literature shows that certain groups have been found to be particularly at risk. In addition to people with mental disorders and addictions, members of the correctional population are among those most likely to present pathological gambling problems. And yet, while several studies examine pre-incarceration gambling habits of men sentenced to prison, few report on what happens to this practice in detention facilities.

Although gambling is formally prohibited by correctional services, its presence in prison is nevertheless acknowledged.

Although gambling is formally prohibited by correctional services, its presence in prison is nevertheless acknowledged. However, studies too often content themselves with drawing a purely descriptive portrait of the types of betting and gambling found in prisons. A better understanding of gambling in prison is essential, if we consider the non-negligible proportion of inmates struggling with this type of addiction.

The objective of this thesis is therefore to improve our understanding of gambling in Quebec's federal detention facilities, based on the opinions and experience of 51 male inmates. Qualitative interviews were conducted in French with male inmates over 18 years of age from Quebec, serving a minimum prison sentence of 24 months. The thematic analysis results were divided into three scientific articles.

In summary, gambling generally remains without consequence in Quebec's detention facilities, since very few inmates appear to exceed their limits and incur debts. Conflicts related to this activity consist mostly of arguments stemming from doubts concerning a player's integrity or an unaccepted defeat. Violent events, such as settlings of accounts due to unpaid debts, were found to be the exception. The results of this thesis also show that, despite having the opportunity to gamble, some pathological gamblers quit or abstain from betting during their incarceration. This new information enables us to reflect on the concept of addiction and on promising avenues for treating incarcerated problem gamblers.

Main researcher

Valérie Beauregard, Université de Montréal

Thesis

Call for proposals

Deposit of the thesis: September 2012