SWINDON has become the first town in the country to implement a new community justice scheme, which has been used to deal with six troublesome street drinkers.
The town was one of 16 areas selected by the Ministry of Justice to test out Neighbourhood Justice Panels, which is an 18-month restorative justice pilot scheme.
And, after months of recruiting and training volunteers from the public, the first one was held last week.
Town centre police, who launched a crackdown on street drinkers under the name of Operation Arcadia, recommended ten of the most prolific in the group of about 50 drinkers they identified to go before the panels, which are attended voluntarily.
Six street drinkers appeared before the panel on August 9 and were handed six-month acceptable behaviour contracts after coming face-to-face with their victims, represented by the town centre management company inSwindon.
The sanctions included not being drunk in public in the borough area, not to congregate with three or more people in public and to engage with support agencies, such as Swindon and Wiltshire Alcohol and Drugs Service.
Much like ASBOs, the contracts would be made under civil law but any breaches could lead to criminal proceedings. They are also admissible as evidence in court.
Swindon Council’s anti-social behaviour manager Simon Evans said the response from the drinkers had been encouraging.
He said: “To set some context regarding the offenders, they have been problem drinkers in and around the town centre for many years.
“Town centre police estimate they take up 40 per cent of their time in dealing with petty crime and anti-social behaviour.
“All are alcoholics, and at the panel some told us that just to function through a day they need to drink a litre of alcohol on waking up to stop the “shakes” in the morning.
“Many of them are transient in their accommodation, moving from bedsits to hostel to homelessness continuously.
“And almost all of them have ongoing serious medical health problems related to their alcohol and drug misuse.
“Each case was different, and we heard different stories from each offender.
“What was apparent was the message that came from the victim, who explained the effect their behaviour had on people shopping in Swindon, who see a large group of drunken people, swearing and fighting in the town.
“Many of the offenders commented that they had not thought of this way of thinking before and hadn’t realised the effect it was having on people.
“One of the offenders, a 24-year-old man, explained that he knew that his behaviour was wrong, he knew that he didn’t want to continue to live his life the way he was but he felt locked in to a pattern and group of people that he could not get out of.
“There was some genuine discussion and as this is about engagement all will return in six weeks for a check on their progress.”