About ten 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 run by Hertfordshire Police. I was working in Hertfordshire schools and took the opportunity to ask a school’s Police Liaison Officer about this practice. I don’t know if this process is still in use. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who knows about this.
Young people issued £80 Fixed Penalty Notices were allowed to pay half if they attend the course provided by a local drug and alcohol agency. Police reported that this approach contributed 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 became 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, healthwise 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.
Although this story is from 2008, the issues are as relevant as they were then. The offer of a Speed Awareness course as an alternative to extra points on a driving licence has probably been taken up by you or someone you know, and the evidence is that this is more effective at changing driving behaviour than punishment. At the same time as the Highways Authority are offering this alternative and as Police are turning to person-centred policing to reduce youth violence, many schools are travelling in the opposite direction, as exemplified by the popularity of the ‘no excuses’ model for inner-city academies. Your comments please!