Monday, November 24, 2008

Prison Poker Schools! What's Next For Card Cheats?

I have heard of some crazy ideas, but this one might take the cake! Prison authorities in the UK have set up poker schools for taxpayers' expense. How can anyone in their right minds think that this is a good idea to occupy prisoners' time? About the only thing that would come to my mind in a poker game in this setting is cheating, right? Well, in any event, convicts at Saughton in Edinburgh waste hours on end playing on six tables with cards, stacks of chips and green felt mats bought for them. Gambling for money is illegal in prison but inmates keep a secret tab of cash won and lost. And brawls break out over cheating and unpaid debts.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has ordered a probe. He said last night: "This is unacceptable. I have asked the Scottish Prison Service to look into it as a matter of urgency. "Gambling is not allowed in prisons and inmates should be making better use of their time than running up debt. We must end this culture of free bed and board. Prison is a punishment for crimes. Many inmates play for tobacco and sweets but a Saughton source claimed cash changes hands." No kidding!

MacAskill went on to say, "Bosses maybe thought poker would keep cons occupied and off drugs. But it has made things worse. There are fights over allegations of cheating and unpaid gambling debts. Prison officers are thoroughly pissed off. There are at least six of these poker schools on the go from as early as the cons can get to them until they have to go back to their cells. But the officers have trouble getting them back to the cells if they are in the middle of a game - especially if they are losing at that particular time. Cons can buy into games using tobacco and sweets. But as there is obviously a shortage of cash in prison, cons are also buying in on the promise of getting money sent to whoever wins by family or friends on the outside. That doesn't always happen and it is inevitably a source of friction and fights. Next thing roulette wheels will be put in place, then a lap-dancing club in Saughton - because after this nothing would surprise us."

Church leaders, politicians and antigambling campaigners are "appalled" by the prison poker schools. Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker said: "It is appalling that convicted criminals are allowed to waste their days playing poker. I cannot understand the logic of the person who thought encouraging cons to gamble while in jail was a good idea."

Reverend Ian Galloway, convener of the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council, said letting prisoners and their families run up debt made it even harder for them to change their lifestyle after prison. He added: "If prison is about rehabilitation then poker tables are clearly unhelpful." again, no kidding!

Gambling addiction support group GamCare said: "Prisoners are people at vulnerable stages of their lives so it does seem odd for prison authorities to give them gambling opportunities."

The Scottish Prison Service confirmed poker sets were part of the recreation equipment at Saughton - along with other board and card games. They said: "Poker is popular in culture outside of prisons. Gambling for money is, of course, forbidden and people will be reported if they are caught doing so."

Inmates have also been given Sony PlayStations and Nintendo Game Boy consoles. They can spend £20 a month getting prison staff to buy them luxuries.

What next..roulette wheels and lap-dancing clubs?