A couple of years ago I read that binge drinkers in Hertfordshire were being offered the chance to reduce their fines in exchange for a place on an alcohol re-education course. I work in Hertfordshire schools and recently took the opportunity to ask a school’s Police Liaison Officer about this practice.
Young people issued £80 Fixed Penalty Notices are allowed to pay half if they attend the course provided by a local drug and alcohol agency. Police say it has helped contribute to a dramatic fall in alcohol-related disorder.
I asked PC Luck (not his real name) about the policy and its effectiveness. He explained how a pilot study had been so successful that it was now policy for all Police Officers to offer the new sessions to young people as an alternative to a full fine. I asked what he thought of the practice. He said that actually his cousin had been arrested for being part of a group who were drinking and where some street violence had erupted. He said that although his cousin did not commit a crime herself, the experience of undergoing this re-education course had brought about a radical reduction in her own alcohol consumption. This was a result of her being asked to write down how much she drank each week, what it cost her and others financially, health-wise and socially.
There are a number of reasons why this new practice interests me:
- It shows that the use of self-assessment and evaluation is effective in behaviour change (Glasser’s Reality Therapy follows a similar philosophy, using the WDEP questioning technique – more of this later!)
- Those who opted to take part in the programme did it for the money, not because they wanted to change their behaviour, so some would be at the pre-conceptual stage of the Cycle of Change, not ready to accept that they have a problem. This shows that such a programme can be effective for young people at this stage, for other problems, such as behaviour problems in school.
- I like the idea of offering young people the option of a punishment or an educational option. This gives schools the option of running a pilot of an alternative to detention or exclusion, for example, without the need to disband the existing system.