In an attempt to address the issue of criminal activity related to pathological gambling, Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti, Jr., recently introduced the Gambling Treatment Referral Program pilot project at the ninth annual Louisiana State Conference on Gambling Behavior sponsored by the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling and the Office for Addictive Disorders. This unprecedented program is designed to help first- or second-time offenders who have committed non-violent crimes directly relatedm to compulsive gambling receive treatment rather than prison time.
Criminal activities such as theft, forgery, fraud, embezzlement and failure to pay child support are typical of felonies or misdemeanors related to gambling disorders. Almost without exception, pathological gamblers are incarcerated or otherwise punished without being given either an option or an opportunity to solve their problems through treatment. Consequently, any increase in criminal activity resulting from problem gambling leads to additional concerns about recidivism, docket crowding and overcrowding of jails.
The primary goals of this pioneering program are restitution, decreased recidivism, relief of crowded dockets, reduction in number of persons incarcerated and cost efficiency.
"With the cost of incarceration averaging about $36,000 per person per year and with treatment usually costing one-tenth this figure, it's easy to see how this program can be very cost efficient," Foti said.
Another goal of the program is to reduce the effects of crime related to pathological gambling on the entire "victim" group. This "victim" group includes not only the direct victims of the crimes but the families of the pathological gambler who often face overwhelming debt or bankruptcy. The group also includes employers and co-workers, who often suffer because the pathological gambler spends time on the job engaging in his gambling habit or steals from his employer.
Initial screening for participation in the treatment program begins with the district attorney and his staff. If the district attorney determines the person's crime is directly related to a gambling disorder, he or she will make a referral to the Gambling Treatment Referral Program. A counselor from the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling or the Office for Addictive Disorders will review the case and evaluate the offender for participation in the program, combining professional diagnostic assessment techniques with the South Oaks Gambling Screen, DSM IV guidelines, and Gamblers Anonymous 20 Questions.
If it is determined the offender is eligible for the program, he or she must sign the district attorney's Gambling Treatment Referral Program agreement and make arrangements to sign the Louisiana Gambling Control Board's self-exclusion form. The program agreement also includes a payment schedule for restitution and a community service schedule. Offenders are advised that if they do not successfully complete the conditions enumerated in the diversion program, they will be returned to the judicial system for further proceedings.
During the treatment period, participants may receive residential, intensive outpatient, halfway house treatment or a combination. (Louisiana is home to two of the five gambling-specific treatment facilities in the country: CORE in Shreveport and CORE South in New Orleans.) Participants move through the program according to the diagnosis and recommendation by the treatment counselor and based upon the level of his or her positive response.
The pilot project was implemented by the district attorney's office for the 26th Judicial District in Louisiana last November, and as of January the program is being offered statewide to all Louisiana district attorneys on a voluntary basis. The treatment program is free to Louisiana citizens and is funded through the Office for Addictive Disorders' Compulsive and Problem Gambling Fund, which receives revenue from the gaming industry as required by law.
The idea of developing a Gambling Treatment Referral Program originated from a meeting last July. Foti and members of his staff met with representatives from the Louisiana Office for Addictive Disorders, the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling and a local district attorney's office to discuss various ways these agencies could work together to establish a diversionary program for individuals whose criminal activity is a direct result of gambling.
"Attorney General Foti is pleased to be associated with and supported by the Louisiana district attorneys who have joined the program, the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling and counselors with the Office for Addictive Disorders in this revolutionary effort aimed at returning those with gambling disorders to productive and useful lives," said Louisiana Assistant Attorney General Sue McNabb. "This diversion program is beneficial to both the industry and regulators because it helps to reduce any negative impact of gaming on the state budget and on the gaming industry."
For more information regarding the Gambling Treatment Referral Program, contact McNabb at 225-326-6500. Questions related to diagnosis of gambling disorders and treatment protocol should be directed to Tom Dumas at 225-342-0859.