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Aussies Mull "Prison Farms" for Alcoholics

Repeat alcoholic offenders down under could face forced rehab if a controversial proposal passes.

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By McCarton Ackerman

08/21/12

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The Country Liberal Party (CLP) of the Northwestern Territory of Australia (NT) is looking into opening "prison farms" for repeat alcoholic offenders as a method of rehabiliation. The Territory Labor Government's Banned Drinkers Register currently has 2,369 people who have been found drunk and disorderly at least three times in a six-month period, or have been referred by their doctor or police. Under the current laws, these offenders cannot purchase alcohol anywhere besides a pub or bar. However, the CLP has said they plan to build two of the prison farms—at a cost of $80 million to run—as a means of rehabilitating repeat offenders. "Under our program, if you get picked up three times in six months, you will be put before a tribunal," said Opposition alcohol policy spokesman Peter Styles. "At that tribunal, you will be able to do voluntary rehab with an alcohol and other drug service provider. If you choose not to do the voluntary program, you will be taken to a mandatory rehabilitation facility—there are two proposed in the Territory—where you will complete a three-month rehab program."

Unsurprisingly, there is vehement opposition to the proposal which is being described as dangerous and not having any proven success. "There is no evidence that the prison farm approach is going to work," says Dr. John Boffa, a spokesman for the People's Alcohol Action Coalition. "Even if you took everyone of the dependent drinkers now—and there are thousands of them in the NT—and put them in a prison farm for three months, they are only talking about three months, most of those people will relapse. It is like putting your head in a bucket and saying 'forget about research and the evidence, we are doing what is popular.' It is actually bordering on criminal and people will die as a result of those policies." The CLP's policy also calls for the possible scrapping of restrictions on alcohol sales and the reinstatement of poker machines in social clubs in some communities.

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