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Archive Article: Alcohol and Crime

Designer Hayes - Saturday, February 28, 2009

In the United States, there is a great deal of media attention to crime associated with illicit drug use. However, more crime is committed under the influence of alcohol than under the influence of all the illegal drugs combined. What are the lessons here for Australia?

Suzanne Briscoe and Neil Donnelly have just written a fascinating study on alcohol and crime: "Temporal and Regional Aspects of Alcohol-Related Violence and Disorder". The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research and Curtin University in Western Australia have published it jointly.

There has long been some scholarly attention to the relationship, which Wesley Mission's forerunner noticed back in 1812, between drinking alcohol and committing crime. The research studies have tended to focus on: the drinking habits of convicted offenders, alcohol consumption around the time of the arrest, and geographical research examining the relationship between variations in the crime rate in different areas and variations in alcohol consumption.

Briscoe and Donnelly review a variety of studies and note some significant trends. For example, the most frequent venue for reported assaults in NSW is on residential premises (43 per cent), followed by outdoors (29 per cent), and licensed premises (9 per cent).

The vast majority of alleged offenders involved in assault incidents were male (81 per cent) - and the victims were also more likely to be male (about 55 per cent). Female victims on residential premises were more likely to have been assaulted by a male (81 per cent), compared with female victims either on licensed premises (45 per cent) or outdoors (51 per cent). The average age of all persons identified in offensive behaviour incidents was 25 years and, again, males were more usually the perpetrators (77 per cent).

The authors suggest that the police need to keep better data on alcohol-related crime. There is a lack of consistency in how the police record (or fail to record) the involvement of alcohol in crime.

The authors make the following recommendations. First, the prevention of drinking in certain public places by enforcing existing prohibited drinking laws (such as alcohol-free zones) could be a useful strategy to reduce alcohol-related crime. Additionally, there could be additional attempts to systematically reduce the levels of alcohol consumption, such as an increase in the tax on alcohol, restricting outlet sales hours or reducing the number of outlets.

Second, violent crime frequently occurs in conjunction with the closing time of hotels and clubs. Most hotels and clubs close at similar times, causing intoxicated patrons from different licensed premises to congregate in the same area and this could to an increase in the propensity for violence. Therefore, there could be the staggering - so to the speak - of the closing times of hotels and clubs and have better transport to move intoxicated patrons out of the areas more efficiently or have police monitoring of bottlenecks where several licensed premises are situated.

Finally, staff in hotels and clubs should be barred from continuing to sell alcohol to patrons who are intoxicated - and there should be close monitoring to ensure that the staff are carrying out this duty.