Violence and Alcohol: Are increased sentences the answer?

I have been reading about the new legislation proposed by Barry O’Farrell, the New South Wales Premier, in an effort to combat the presently alleged “epidemic” of alcohol fuelled violence sweeping through Sydney and its suburbs.  Let me start with this: my thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost loved ones as a result of current “epidemic”.  Equally, those same thoughts and prayers go out to anyone who has lost a loved one to a violent act. There can be no excuse for unprovoked or excessive violence.

The focus on alcohol fuelled violence of late and the legislative enhancements that have been proposed to sentences for crimes arising whilst under the influence has bothered me because the focus, in my view, on the alcohol element seems to miss the point that any violence, unprovoked, excessive or otherwise, is, or ought be considered to be, abhorrent.  I am bothered by the perception that seems to arise that there are different levels of criminality there arises from an assault depending on whether one is under the influence of alcohol or not.

This is a chicken and egg scenario isn’t it? On the one hand it is suggested, or appears to be suggested, that by reducing the opportunities of some to drink will thereby reduce violence.  On the other hand the perception that arises from the legislation and the press would appear to be that only drunk people commit acts of unprovoked or excessive violence.

The latter statement must fundamentally be incorrect: simply put once does not need to be exclusively drunk (or otherwise under the influence) to act in a violent way.  I guess what I am saying is that violence is not the exclusive province of those who are drunk.

The former statement, again, is flawed.  For a start, some of the recent incidents of alcohol fuelled violence have occurred between 9pm and midnight being a time at which the proposed new lock out laws would have had the possibility of reducing the level of imbibement of alcohol of the individuals acting in a violent way.  Further, am I alone in thinking that locking people out of premises is counter intuitive to protecting the public from violent acts? A lock out after a certain period only adds to the number of people, intoxicated, walking around trying to find transportation home.  Surely then a lock out increases the risks of an incident happening.

Maybe I am being too simplistic here but to me increasing the sentences available for alcohol induced violence whilst increasing the opportunities for said violence to occur completely misses the point.  Stopping the violence surely must be the best means of stopping alcohol fuelled violence not the other way around.  Afterall, how many drunks are going to stop themselves from acting in a violent way whilst drunk because they fear incarceration? Dealing with the violence and not the alcohol element of the violence must be the better way.

For me it comes back to something that I tweeted a while ago: regardless of the sentences available the prosecution of offenders and the sentencing of same to custodial sentences for all types of assaults is a great place to start deterring likely future offenders.  The perception that offenders are going to get away with acting in a violent way seems to have been begat by the phalanx of good behaviour bonds and suspended sentences we have seen in the past.

In addition, we, as a society, must get back to condemning violence of any kind for being exactly what it is: an abhorrent act of cowardice rather than celebrating same.   This is everyone’s responsibility and traverses education of kids and young adults, the punishment of those who commit violent acts and, frankly, the shaming of repeat offenders rather than their celebration.

I repeat what I said in the preamble: my thoughts and prayers go out to anyone who has lost a loved one to a violent act.  This post is not in any way designed to denigrate their collective memories.  I just do not think that what appears to be the current suggested “answer” (blaming alcohol) honours those memories and a broader approach needs to be taken to tackling the problem of violence of all types.

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