No impact on crime by alcohol arrest referral schemes

Disappointing results have been obtained from pilot alcohol arrest referral schemes in the UK. The projects provided brief counselling to arrested individuals who the police believed were under the influence of alcohol. It was hoped that these interventions would lead to a reduction in offending behaviour. If successful, such schemes could form an important tool in tackling the public disorder associated with the night time economy.

The schemes delivered nearly 7,000 interventions, mainly to young white men. Nearly half of the individuals were drinking at hazardous/harmful levels, while more than a third were dependent drinkers. Just over a third of those arrested were suspected of violent offences and a sixth of being drunk and disorderly.

Disappointingly, there was no clear evidence that the interventions led to a reduction in offending behaviour. In fact, in some schemes individuals in a control group showed a greater decrease in offending behaviour than in the group receiving counselling.

The authors believe that one cause for this disappointing result lay in the fact that many of the participants were not prolific offenders. For these individuals there was not much offending to reduce, a situation very different from drug referral schemes. Schemes that might be appropriate in the context of illegal drugs cannot simply be transposed over to problematic alcohol use.

The schemes did identify many dependent drinkers and may be an effective way to signpost those individuals into alcohol treatment. However, it is questionable that interventions aimed at offenders are the best way to tackle the disorder associated with the night time economy.

Findings has a report on this research here.