Alcohol problems are not a crime

Alcohol problems will no longer be a crime in Melbourne and throughout the State of Victoria. Policy changes will see public drunkenness become a health issue by the end of 2023. The move was announced by Victoria’s Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes following a Government report last year into decriminalising public drunkenness and the development of an alternative, health-based response so that alcohol problems are not a crime.

It’s just one of many changes around the globe that recognise the benefits of treating human frailties more compassionately. A health-led response, produces better outcomes, often at less cost, than treating them as crimes. It’s a lesson for countries on how they might deal with other problems, like with drugs, gambling and even divorce.

Prepare early services

The change highlights the need to have health services and early interventions ready and prepared to deal with such policy changes. According to The Age, the new response to public drunkenness will involve:

  • dedicated services for First Nations communities across the state;
  • services for non-Indigenous people in metropolitan Melbourne and
  • a 24/7 hotline service to support service providers.

The new approach would provide a much-needed lifeline and save many lives.

It’s a policy change that was recommended more than 30 years ago by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and one that recognises that large and disproportionate number of First Nations people who find themselves in Australian prisons.

If we apply more broadly the principles of early intervention and compassionate support for vulnerable groups better solutions to many of society’s social problems would quickly emerge.

Alcohol problems are not a crime and neither, for example, are separating families. Yet there too, too late and sometimes harmful legal and court interventions are the norm. The new approach would provide a much-needed lifeline and save many lives.