The effect of summary conviction and court enforced fines on problem street drinkers in receipt of social security payments

Criminology Research Council grant ; (22/81)

The research was designed to investigate the effect of summary conviction and court imposed fines on problem street drinkers in the inner city of Perth. In a small number of documented cases through the Emergency Centre at Royal Perth Hospital, it was possible to monitor the proportion of Social Security payments surrendered as personal bail or fines for street drinking charges. If this was indicative of a larger population, then an assessment could be made of the amount of money involved, the effects on subsequent re-conviction and lifestyle.

A structured interview was administered and court records searched for 50 respondents following their being committed in the East Perth Court of Petty Sessions on public drunk and drinking charges. It was found that the majority of respondents were on Social Security and had not worked for over two years. Over half had attended the Royal Perth Hospital Emergency Centre for alcohol and alcohol related conditions but less than one-third had had specialised treatment for alcoholism. Voluntary agency support was utilised by half the sample.

While the majority of public drunk and drinking charges were dismissed or dealt with by default, the discriminatory nature of the penalty and sums paid in bail represented significant losses in income. The deterrent effect was found to be negligible. One-third of the respondents expressed interest in an income maintenance program. The implications of implementing such a proposal are discussed with reference to health, welfare and legal services.