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Current Research - Alcohol

Civil commitment in WA: Lessons from a forgotten era

The research project will examine approaches that have been implemented in Western Australia (WA), as well as a number of other jurisdictions, to manage public drunkenness, focussed in particular on the period from 1900 to 2010.

There will be a case study of the 12 year period from 1963 to 1974, when the Convicted Inebriates’ Rehabilitation Act 1963 (CIRA) operated, which meant a person in WA could be sentenced for a term of up to 12 months imprisonment if drunkenness was an element or contributory cause of a summary offence. The approach was based on the premise that a process of supervised detoxification was the first step of rehabilitating those with this level of problematic alcohol use.

Once a court had declared the person a 'convicted inebriate' they could be ordered to be placed in a low security prison farm under the control of the Prisons Department. Whilst the individual was managed as a sentenced prisoner, there was also some ongoing input & oversight by the Convicted Inebriates Board as it exercised powers for early release depending on compliance with the Board's nominated rehabilitative goals.

The Convicted Inebriates Board ceased in November 1974 after the commencement of the WA Alcohol and Drug Authority (WAADA), which was established under the Alcohol and Drug Authority Act 1974 (ADAA). Even though the power to obtain a convicted inebriate order was transferred to the Director of the WAADA, it is believed this power was never exercised up to when the CIRA was repealed in November 1989.

A more recent era of managing public drunkeness, from the mid 1970s, which involved key roles by health agencies & the expansion of non government specialist service providers will be considered. An important change in the role of the police occurred in the mid 1990s, who were able to apprehend an intoxicated person & take them to a sobering up shelter (SUC), instead of the previous approach of arresting them & placing them in a lockup. The majority of SUCs in WA are located in the North West & largely service the indigenous population.

The function of SUCs are to provide an overnight non medical residential program where individuals can be taken by police for short term management of their alcohol intoxication. The establishment of SUCs was a key outcome of the decriminalisation of drunkenness in WA with the enactment of the Acts Amendment (Detention of Drunken Persons) Act 1989, which amended both the Police Act 1892 & the Child Welfare Act 1947.

With a focus on the circumstances & context in WA, the research project will include:

  1. a study of the socio-legal mechanisms exercised by police & other agencies in relation to those who abuse alcohol;
  2. a review of the expanding reliance on public health measures in addressing alcohol problems;
  3. consideration of the historical circumstances for decriminalising public drunkenness & subsequent outcomes;
  4. a study of measures that have been resorted to in relation to the use of alcohol by Indigenous peoples;
  5. an examination of liquor licensing laws with reference to the regulation of the sale & consumption of alcohol; &
  6. the policies & services to manage those who abuse alcohol.

Thematic linkages will be established between the research concerned with the above areas & a number of broader theoretical issues, such as decriminalisation, the growing use of options for police to 'divert' minor alcohol & drug offenders & the growing use of coercive powers exercised through specialist courts reliant embrace some of the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence.

Decriminalisation of drunkenness

A key change in approach towards public drunkenness occurred in WA following the decriminalisation of public drunkenness in April 1990, in response to the many problems that had been highlighted by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC), which published an interim report in 1985.

This area will consider reforms concerned with how the police and the courts were able to deal with those who commit alcohol related offences before & after this reform. This will include examination of some of the case law that developed & long standing vagrancy and public nuisance laws which had targeted public drunkenness in WA and other jurisdictions to manage public order problems stemming from alcohol abuse.

Indigenous people & alcohol

The appalling history of measures utilised to assert domination over Indigenous inhabitants, in all Australian jurisdictions, as well as in other countries such as New Zealand, Canada & the United States, has been well documented.

With specific reference to WA, what has not been as well considered is the array of administrative & law enforcement measures that have been utilised throughout the State's history to regulate access to & use of alcohol by its Indigenous people. This extends from 1829 when the Swan River Colony was established, after the British Parliament granted it the status of a self governing colony in 1890 & continued after federation when it became a state & joined the Commonwealth of Australian States on 1 January 1901.

The close regulation of many aspects of the lives of Indigneous people was achieved through the statutory position of the Chief Protector of Aborigines, which operated in WA from 1898 to 1936. This system, which was also followed in the other Australian states, was preceded by the establishment in 1886 of the Aborigines Protection Board, which appointed Local Protectors throughout the State. The Chief Protectors in WA were:

  • 1898 - 1907: Henry Prinsep
  • 1907 - 1915: Charles Gales
  • 1915 - 1936: AO (Auber) Neville

In 1936 the title of Chief Protector was changed to Commissioner of Native Affairs & subsequently renamed the Commissioner of Native Welfare in June 1955. This title was abolished in June 1972. The Commissioners who administered this portfolio were:

  • 1936 - March 1940: AO (Auber) Neville
  • March 1940 - April 1947: FL (Sonny) Bray
  • August 1948 - February 1962: SG (Stan) Middleton
  • February 1962 - June 1972: FE (Frank) Gare

Click here to go to a page with details of aspects of the development of Indigenous policy making in WA & at the Commonwealth level & to view or download reports published by concerning Indigenous people in WA:

  • Royal Commissions
  • Select Committees
  • Surveys & reviews concerning specific issues

Departmental reports & organisation arrangements

Click here to go to a page with a listing of departmental arrangements concerned with the health & treatment system, law enforcement system & liquor regulatory system, including annual reports for:

  • WA Alcohol & Drug Authority (1975/1976 - 1997/1998)
  • Next Step Specialist Drug & Alcohol Services (1998/1999 - 2001/2002
  • Health Department of WA (1997/1998 - 2001/2002)
  • WA Drug Abuse Strategy Office (1997/1998 - 2000/2001)
  • Drug & Alcohol Office (2002/2003 - 2012/2013
  • WA Police Department (1853 - May 1995)
  • Western Australian Police Service (June 1995 - June 2006)
  • Western Australia Police (July 2006 - present)

Alcohol & drug strategies

Click here to go to a page which sets out the various iterations of Alcohol & drug strategies & Action plans developed by governments in WA from 1990 to the present.

Statistical information

Click here to go to a page which lists reports & papers which contain statistical information related to alcohol & other drugs in WA.

Official inquiries & investigations & summits

The growing role of government in this State in managing alcohol related problems will be examined in relation to the official inquiries conducted between 1972 and 1995 which encompassed both alcohol & other drugs.

It should be noted that since 1995, official inquiries have explicitly excluded consideration of alcohol related problems. None of these inquiries has included tobacco.

  • 1972: Investigation into drugs & alcohol by Dr AS Ellis
  • 1973: Royal Commission Into the Treatment of Alcohol & Drug Dependents
  • 1979: Dependence on alcohol & other drugs in WA by Dr Thomas Bewley
  • 1983: Review of WA Alcohol & Drug authority by Dr Bruce Ritson
  • 1984: Select Committee Into Alcohol & Other Drugs
  • 1989: Working Party on the WA Alcohol & Drug Authority
  • 1995: Task Force on Drug Abuse
  • 1997-1998: Select Committee Into Misuse of Drugs Act 1981
  • 2002-2004: Working Party on Drug Law Reform
  • 2007: Statutory Review of Cannabis Control Act 2003

In addition to these official inquiries, there have been two 'drug summits' in WA - both of which explicitly excluded consideration of alcohol:

  • Community drug summit (held from 13-17 August 2001)
  • Amphetamine type stimulants summit (one day in July 2007)

Click here to go to a page with more detailed descriptions of these inquiries & to view or download copies of their reports.

Liquor licensing research

This area will outline approaches that governments in WA compared to a number of other juridictions have implemented to regulate the supply and availability of alcohol, permissible conduct by those who consume alcohol and consequences for those who abuse alcohol. This will include review of a number of the official inquiries that occurred. The following official inquiries have been conducted in WA since the early 1920s:

  • 1922: Royal Commission on Licensing Act
  • 1958: Parliamentary Committee Into the Liquor Licensing Act
  • 1969: Inquiry Into the Licensing Act 1911
  • 1984: Liquor Laws Royal Commission
  • 1987: Liquor Act 1970 Review
  • 1994: Independent Review of Liquor Licensing
  • 1995: Review of Liquor Licensing Act 1988
  • 2005: Independent Review of the Liquor Licensing Act 1988
  • 2005: Assessment of Impacts of Liquor Licensing Reforms

Click here to go to a page with more detailed descriptions of these inquiries & to view or download copies of reports.

Therapeutic jurisprudence

The research project will be used to develop a critical understanding of a growing emphasis by governments since the early 1990s of utilising coercive approaches in relation to those who use drugs other than alcohol.

In WA as in other Australian & overseas jurisdictions, government was historically concerned with using the criminal justice system to target those who were problematic users of alcohol. However, in Australia over the past 25 years governments have redirected their focus away from problematic users of alcohol to drugs other than alcohol, especially those who use heroin, cannabis and amphetamine type stimulants (ATS). This is reflected in a variety of conditional cautioning, pre & post conviction diversion schemes & drug courts that now operate in most Australian jurisdictions.

The research will identify the extent to which this largely forgotten period in WA history may share common features with the more recent development of ‘problem solving courts’ (PSCs). The rationale for the development of PSCs is that they are regarded by legislators, the courts and law enforcement agencies as more effective and better suited than the mainstream court processes for dealing with minor crime, anti social behaviour & intractable social problems, such as abuse of illicit drugs, mental illness & domestic violence.

The increased adoption of PSCs represents a shift in managing offenders with intractable social problems away from the traditional punishment focussed approach of criminal courts to court settings specifically established to focus on rehabilitation & reform of offenders.

The development of PSCs is now recognised as belonging within a broader framework referred to as ‘therapeutic jurisprudence', which has developed over the past two decades since the opening in 1989 of a drug court in Dade County in the State of Florida. The feature of drug courts is that they set out to create a court setting which largely avoids an adversarial model, limits the involvement of legal counsel and instead gives primacy to the role of the judge or magistrate to oversee and monitor the diversion of drug offenders into treatment programs.

The adoption of some of the key principles of therapeutic jurisprudence has occurred with the establishment of drug courts and other forms of judicial supervision of minor drug offenders in WA & most Australian jurisdictions. A common feature of these schemes is they are designed to ‘compel’ those whose offending has involved the use of drugs other than alcohol to participate in treatment programs. This approach has been referred to as coerced voluntarism.

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