Education, not a 'drunk tank', is the solution to drink-related crime

18 Sep 2013
by Caroline Thompson

What’s the best way to deal with people who become drunk and disorderly in our town and city centres? Do we fine them, arrest them, lock them up, name and shame them, educate them or simply accept that – for a considerable minority of people – binge drinking is a deeply entrenched way of life.

I found myself asking this question as I drove to work this morning and listened on the breakfast radio news to the latest suggestion of how to tackle binge drinking. In case you missed it, ACPO (The Association of Chief Police Officers), has suggested that people who are found to be drunk and incapable should be taken to “cell”, owned and operated by a private company, to sober up. They would then be charged for their care in the morning.

As a result the news today is full of debate about the effectiveness or otherwise of what effectively would be a modern Drunk Tank – used in years gone by as a treatment for public drunkenness.  Personally I believe this idea to be a bad one. I don’t believe it would deliver effective long-term reductions in alcohol related disorder (if a night spent vomiting in the street or at home doesn’t affect long-term behaviour change, why should a night of vomiting in a cell be any different?) and I also doubt whether it could be implemented safely.

What I know, however, is that there is an effective alternative – an alternative that has been successfully trialled in Nottingham to the benefit of dozens of people. Since November 2011, Last Orders – the alcohol treatment and education service operated by Framework – has been operating the Alcohol Diversion Scheme.

Operated in partnership with Nottinghamshire Police and the Nottingham Crime and Drugs Partnership, the scheme operates in a similar way to speed awareness courses, where motorists can avoid points on their license by attending an educational course. With the Alcohol Diversion Scheme, people arrested for such alcohol related incidents can attend a monthly course run by Framework staff, which will result in a reduction in their fine and likelihood that they will avoid a criminal record.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that the people who turn up to these courses – often very reluctantly – will simply nod their heads and pretend to take the information we are giving them on board, but this really is not the case. The people that attend our courses, often students from Nottingham’s two universities, really do take the information we give them on board. Many, for example, simply have no idea about the effects of mixing alcohol with drugs or of the effects certain drinks can have on their short-term behaviour and on their long-term health.

At the end of the sessions we play the following CCTV video, showing the shocking potential consequences of intoxication. The video (below), which is always met by stunned silence, shows a man being knocked down and killed by single drunken punch. This, and the other material contained within our sessions, really does work.


When, in December 2012, the first full year results were analysed the scheme recorded a 100 per cent success rate, in that not one of the 140 people who attended had reoffended. Because of this success, additional funding of £43,000 was granted to extend the scheme to cover the rest of Nottinghamshire.

I firmly believe that, with this compelling evidence in mind, that ACPO, the Government and others ought not to be looking to the failed solutions of the past, but to a wider programme of education. The Alcohol Diversion Scheme provides a perfect model for other towns and cities to follow and I believe passionately that it provides an effective way forward in the on-going fight against binge-drinking and alcohol related crime.

*Caroline is Framework's Clinical Lead for Alcohol and Drug Treatment Services

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