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London could be the first city in England to trial a new scheme to tackle alcohol related crime. After campaigning for further measures to be introduced, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson and his Deputy Mayor for Policing, Kit Malthouse, have been offered a new pilot scheme by the government for persistent alcohol offenders in the capital. The ‘sobriety’ scheme will see criminals convicted of serious drink-related offences such as assault or criminal damage given electronic tags that will be used to monitor alcohol in their blood. If the offenders continue to consume alcohol they will be arrested and brought before a judge who has the option of sending them back to prison.
This comes as a new Greater London Authority telephone survey of over a 1,000 Londoners found that over two thirds (69 per cent) would welcome courts banning offenders from consuming alcohol if they were guilty of committing an alcohol related offence. Whilst 60 per cent backed the right of courts to ban someone from consuming alcohol who has been given bail.
Across the UK, one fifth of all violent incidents take place in or around a pub or club. The majority (64 per cent) of all violence occurs in the evening or at night and just under half occurs at the weekend (Friday 6pm until Sunday 6am).
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: “I am grateful to my colleagues in Whitehall for recognising that tackling crime is a top priority in this city and we must use every innovation at our disposal to keep on making London safer. This proposal is welcome but we still need the legislation passing to give the necessary powers in order to have a major impact.”
The Mayor says that he is keen to continue working with the government on more legislation to offer a wider scheme inspired by a programme in South Dakota led by Keith Humphreys, where 99.3 per cent of offender’s tests were negative and the prison population fell by 14 per cent.
Kit Malthouse, the Deputy Mayor for Crime and Policing said: “This pilot is great news for London and bad news for the persistent offenders who cause misery and mayhem with alcohol fuelled violence. We hope this will now be the template for the wider reforms needed to fully implement the wider sobriety scheme we’re lobbying for which can successfully tackle wider issues like domestic violence and makes people pay for daily testing. The success of South Dakota proves that removing alcohol really reduces violent crime.
“In the meantime we hope this mini pilot will have a positive impact on 300 people this summer. Our alcohol survey proves the public want more done to tackle alcohol related crime, so although criminals may protest, this may be the short sharp shock they need. Offenders will have to ask themselves if a drink is really worth a night in jail? “
In 2010/11 nearly half of all violent crime (almost 1 million crimes) was fuelled by alcohol and the police are fighting a constant and expensive battle against alcohol related offences and anti-social behaviour. The London Ambulance Service attended 51,718 incidents in 2010/11 where alcohol was been mentioned as involved – a 9 per cent increase on the previous year.
The GLA survey also revealed that only 14 per cent of Londoners think that the costs for testing for alcohol sobriety should be met by the state – backing the lobbying of the Mayor’s Office for offenders to pay a small amount of money (around a £1) towards daily breathalysing.
The total estimated cost of alcohol related crime is £8bn to £13bn per year (Home Office). This estimate takes into account the costs in anticipation of crime, the direct physical and emotional costs to victims, the value of lost output, and the costs to the health service and Criminal Justice System.
ICM Research conducted a telephone survey on behalf of GLA. Findings are based on 1,001 interviews carried out between 25 and 28 November 2011, with a representative sample of adults in Greater London. Full topline results for the poll can be found at http://www.london.gov.uk/gla-programme-phone-surveys
The Mayor has drafted amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to introduce a compulsory alcohol sobriety scheme pilot in London. The amendments which have cross-party support, would create a new sentencing power: the Alcohol Monitoring Requirement (AMR). This new sentencing power would give courts the power to impose a requirement that an offender abstain from alcohol and be regularly tested to ensure compliance, as part of any community sentence or licence conditions. If the test is breached, there is a process of apprehension – speedy reappearance at the Magistrates Court and an immediate sanction such as an extension of the AMR. These amendments were debated in the House of Lords and Peers from all sides of the House made speeches in support of them.
If the amendments for an Alcohol Monitoring Requirement were added to the Bill it would enable the Mayor of London to trial a compulsory alcohol sobriety scheme in the capital, to help to crack down on the menace of alcohol related violence. London experiences disproportionate levels of alcohol related crime in comparison to the rest of the country which poses a huge threat not only to the safety of Londoners, but also has huge cost implications for the Metropolitan Police Service and the NHS, as well as borough budgets.
Primary legislation for the scheme is essential to deliver the three requirements of regular testing, offenders paying for their tests and sanctions imposed if there is a breach. It is not possible to run this scheme under existing legislation such as through conditional cautions or Penalty Notices of Disorder because the programme would become voluntary rather than compulsory. Moreover, domestic violence and drink driving offences are not covered by conditional cautions. The Compulsory Alcohol Sobriety Scheme would be aimed at more serious offences such as violence against the person rather than lower level, voluminous offences that are covered by cautions and ASBOs.