Since 2005 Cascadia has been working within the prisons, offering a program called “GEAR” (gambling evaluation and reduction) to inmates. The GEAR program initially started at the women’s institution, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF) in Wilsonville. Cascadia eventually expanded the program to the Columbia River Correctional Facility (CRCI) for men in Portland. Cascadia Problem Gambling Counselor, Erin Cox has been working for Cascadia for more than nine years and shares with us how problem gambling education within the prison system are changing lives.

Cascadia found that many inmates were turning to gambling, thinking that gambling would be safer than drugs or alcohol. Cascadia’s GEAR program focuses on prevention and alerting inmates about the risks with gambling.  Over the years, Problem Gambling has seen the number of inmates with gambling addiction grow dramatically.

“As a result we started working with the Department of Corrections last year, recommending that we offer a longer treatment program for individuals assessed for gambling disorder. They agreed and have allowed us to do a pilot,” said Erin.

The new program Problem Gambling has developed is called GRIP (gambling reduction and recovery for incarcerated populations). It is a 12-week group-based program that was piloted at CCCF for individuals who identify as having a problem with gambling. Cascadia’s Problem Gambling Program just finished the pilot this past February and will be starting up at CCCF again later this month, with a possibility to expand later this spring.

Starting the program within the prison system started out with some uncertainty. Initially the treatment counselors didn’t think that there were many interested inmates because counselors didn’t think it was much of a problem. However, they realized that many people weren’t interested because no one thought to bring the subject and talk about it. Erin said that once they were able to get in and start talking with inmates, the counselors could see how pervasive the problem was and inmates completely got on board soon after.

Erin admits that one of the challenges has been to identify inmates with gambling problems. Since the Department of Corrections (DOC) doesn’t assess for problem gambling when inmates come through the system. so we have tried to work with the existing treatment programs within DOC to identify individuals.

“This has been effective because so many inmates have problems both with drugs and alcohol as well as gambling – they often go hand in hand,” said Erin. “We hope to help DOC incorporate gambling assessment questions so that individuals can be identified earlier, ensuring they are able to access this program before they are released.”

Over the last few years Problem Gambling has been able to serve about 100 inmates at CCCF and CRCI combined.

The work Cascadia’s Problem Gambling program is doing within the prisons is a critical part of reducing recidivism. More than half of the inmates in the problem gambling group have reported they have committed a crime in order to obtain money to gamble.

“Without addressing their gambling addiction, their chance of staying out of the correctional system is really compromised and we all pay the price for that,” said Erin. “Our focus is to help them understand this addiction, how it might relate to their drug and alcohol use, identify their triggers and build healthy coping skills to support an ongoing recovery lifestyle.”

For more information about Cascadia’s Problem Gambling program, visit the program’s page.