Repeal of public drunkenness laws recognises that highly intoxicated people need care, not a police cell

Released on 10th December 2020

The State Government’s decision to decriminalise public drunkenness has been applauded by one of Victoria’s leading community health services which says the move will protect the health of many of its vulnerable clients, and prevent unnecessary contact with the justice system. 

“Incarcerating someone for being intoxicated is dangerous, said Nicole Bartholomeusz, Chief Executive, cohealth. 

“Someone who is drunk in a public place needs a health response in a safe place that allows them to sober up, not a police cell.” 

Decriminalising public drunkenness is an overdue change that will ensure the health and safety of people who present as intoxicated.  Some people who appear intoxicated may in fact have a brain injury; in either case a compassionate response is the most sensible way to help them,” 

A punitive response to alcohol and drug use in the community only further marginalises people who are facing disadvantage and stigma.  

After Australia’s horrific history of Aboriginal deaths in custody, cohealth says that the repeal of the laws is long overdue.  With this change, only Queensland will have failed to implement the recommendation to abolish the offence contained in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991. 

cohealth also welcomed the proposal to establish sobering up centres, though warned they needed to be adequately funded, and embedded within the health systemand not simply ‘Clayton’s prisons’.  

“We’d like to see non-custodial, health-focussed settings where people who are highly intoxicated can get the care and attention they needand potentially connect with health and social workers for ongoing support,” said Ms Bartholomeusz. 

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More information: Lanie Harris 0418 552 377 

More on cohealth: 

cohealth is a Victorian not-for-profit community health organisation that strives to improve health and wellbeing for all. It provides universal access to services as well as targeted programs and assertive models to address the health disparities experienced by disadvantaged groups. cohealth offers a broad range of high quality, integrated health and support services, including medical oral, pharmacy, mental health and drug and alcohol services.  

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