This is a guest post by the Keep River Kite.

One would have thought that the nadir of NT Government efforts to rid public spaces of people overindulging in warm wine or bitter beer was the mid-1990’s when Chief Minister Shane Stone thought it time to “monster and stomp” on those people deemed to be making poor use of said spaces.

Stone was not shy in providing resources for police to take huge numbers of people into “protective custody”, a spell of six hours in the “drunk tank” at the nearest station, for persons intoxicated but not having broken any laws.

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He enacted the infamous mandatory gaol terms for property offences, including minor receiving charges, so those drunks dabbling in a spot of crime often had protracted stays in prison.
However the mainstay of the monster stomp was being swept up out of a park and, via the cage on the back of the police ute, being deposited next to the stainless steel dunny in the cop shop drunk’s cell to sleep it off.

Tens of thousands of these internments occur annually in the NT.

The 2013 version of the CLP has taken the thrust of the Stone approach and ramped it up with a heavy emphasis on detention.

Minister for Alcohol Rehabilitation (only in the Territory!) Robyn Lambley has announced the imminent formation of Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Tribunals that will be empowered to detain persons who have not committed crimes but are regularly drunk in public.

Periods of detention will be 12 weeks, during which the person will undergo rehabilitation with a side salad of training in “life skills and work readiness”.

There are approximately 3000 persons in the NT that are regularly taken into protective custody. The worst 800 are expected to be ordered into detention at one of what will be six “secure” rehabilitation centres. $100 million has been set aside to pay for all of this, inclusive of security personnel at the centres, over the next three years.

In a place where wild failed schemes are as regular as the storms of the wet, this one is the most untamed and brainless yet.

In essence the government is creating six new gaols to be populated by the hardest drinkers in the Territory, none of whom will have committed a crime to have got there. Even Minister Lambley recognises these are hard nuts to crack, hoping for a 20% success rate.

The NT already has two sprawling long stay drunk tanks – the Darwin and Alice Springs Correctional Centres.

NT crime is grog fuelled and record numbers of people battling the bottle are locked up. Prison inmate numbers have skyrocketed in the past 15 years. In the prisons “get off the grog” courses are run and the shocking levels of recidivism are testament to their failure.

Each and everyone of the 800 people to be targeted by the AMT Tribunals will have been locked up many times in drunk tanks.

The vast majority will have been sentenced to prison and have undergone grog rehabilitation (as far as it is offered) inside or will have attended one of the numerous alcohol rehabilitation centres in the NT, either as part of a court order or off their own bats.

The idea that seriously grog hungry individuals will be transformed by spending weeks in detention going over old ground is simply ridiculous.

Not a chance.

A hopeless and alarming frittering away of valuable funds and resources.

One can expect that the average drunk who manages to remain tidy enough to not be committing crimes is going to be resistant to being imprisoned.

Not a great start to embracing change.

Anybody even remotely involved in grog rehabilitation knows the “pre-contemplative” individual is a lost cause.

The issue of tension within these centres will have to be addressed. No matter how these centres are dressed up and no matter how many words of encouragement are showered upon the inmates, many are going to get very stroppy and clashes with staff and security will occur.

Will leaving such a centre without permission become a criminal offence?

The inescapable conclusion is that these centres will serve merely to further criminalise the inmates who, at least on this occasion, were placed there without having committed a crime.

The people who end up before the tribunal will inevitably be marred by a bevy of issues. Some will have been behind the foetal alcohol syndrome eight ball from the off. Some will be victims of sexual and other abuse. Some will be victims of domestic violence.

Most will be cognitively impaired, many by dint of head injuries. Each person will have specific and deep seated needs that underpin their self-destructive drinking that should be addressed.

What will be on offer will be a very expensive, duplicitous and superficial tonic of no use. Funds and resources that should be ploughed into preventative measures such as better support of pregnant mothers and educational programs for kids will be caught up in this charade.

I expect court challenges to this scheme will destroy it. Minister Lambley trumpets that it is the first scheme of its type in Australia.
That it is, as in Australia we have the fine tradition of only locking up people who commit crimes or who are so mentally unwell they must be committed.

This scheme smacks of the sort of re-programming found behind iron or bamboo curtains. Even if it is only to see the re-introduction of the farcical Banned Drinkers Register that took her fancy, Julia Gillard should step in here now and can this garbage before the courts do.

Apart from anything else, speedy action will reduce the mounting scars our reputation as a fair nation is accruing.