Department of Health

Public intoxication reform

About the health-based model: information for stakeholders and the Victorian public

Overview

Current laws in Victoria make being drunk in a public place a criminal offence. These laws have disproportionately impacted Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities and people who would benefit from health and social support, rather than a criminal justice response.

In 2019, the Victorian Government acknowledged that reform was long overdue and committed to decriminalising public intoxication and replacing the current criminal justice response with a health-led approach. This means putting the right programs in place to help people who are intoxicated in public access the support they need to stay safe.

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities have advocated for the decriminalisation of public intoxication for decades. This reform responds to extensive community action and key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Expert Reference Group on Public Drunkenness.

The Victorian Government remains committed to decriminalising public intoxication in November 2023.

In December 2022, a health-led model was confirmed to support the Victorian Government’s commitment to decriminalisation.

The 2023-24 budget allocated $88.3 million over three years for the statewide rollout of the health-based response to public intoxication, including dedicated services for Aboriginal Victorians.

Following decriminalisation, no person will be placed in a police cell or arrested solely on the basis of intoxication.

Victoria Police’s primary role in responding to people intoxicated in public will be limited to where community safety risks or criminality are present. The police response will be informed by the behaviour of the person, rather than the intoxication itself.

This will help to save lives and reduce the intergenerational impacts of criminalisation.

About the statewide model

A health-led approach

The new model will focus on providing support for people who may have otherwise come into contact with police. Given the disproportionate impact on the Aboriginal community, the model prioritises the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal people living in Victoria.

We will be delivering dedicated outreach and place of safety services for Aboriginal people in metropolitan Melbourne and in regional and outer metropolitan locations; and a general non-cohort-specific service in metropolitan Melbourne.

Ambulance Victoria and Victoria Police will continue to provide a response in instances of public intoxication where there are emergency health risks or community safety risks. In the absence of such risks, police officers will provide support to individuals in need of assistance, including referrals to the new health-led services where appropriate and available.

For police, in the absence of community safety risks, this may include providing general support such as contacting friends or family, arranging transport or contacting alternative local support services, or contacting an ambulance where an emergency health response is required. They may ultimately leave a person in place where support is no longer required, or consent is not provided. As they currently do, police will continue to contact ambulance services where a serious health risk is identified.

For ambulance services, there is expected to be limited change to current responses. Ambulance services will continue to respond to people who require emergency care and, if necessary transport them to emergency departments. They may also contact police if there are community safety risks.

Why we’re taking this approach

This health-based model will help divert people away from a police response and increase their access to health and social services.

People who are intoxicated, who otherwise pose no danger to themselves or others, require this service because the current criminal justice led response is not appropriate and inconsistent with current community standards.

The model prioritises services for the Aboriginal community, in acknowledgement of the disproportionate impact public intoxication laws and police interactions have had on Aboriginal people. This reform ultimately aims to reduce Aboriginal deaths in custody and is in recognition of the strong and sustained advocacy from the Aboriginal community for reform to the way that government systems respond to people who are intoxicated in public.

The model been developed in consultation with the Aboriginal Advisory Group and other Aboriginal stakeholders.

Local consultation will occur in the coming months to ensure flexibility in local delivery.

Services included in the health-led approach

Outreach

Outreach means taking services to the community who might not otherwise have access to those services.

Outreach services will be provided in two ways:

  • Generally, and in most locations, on-demand outreach teams will respond to referrals. These teams can provide immediate assistance, arrange private transport or, if appropriate, transport people to a place where they can safely recover from the effects of intoxication.
  • At peak times in high-demand areas of metropolitan Melbourne, assertive outreach teams will be present to identify and respond to instances of public intoxication. These teams can provide immediate assistance, arrange private transport or, if appropriate, transport a person to a place of safety (including sobering centre).

Sobering facilities and places of safety

In metropolitan Melbourne, 24/7 fully staffed sobering centres will provide a supervised place for people who are intoxicated to stay while they recover from the immediate effects of intoxication. They are a dignified and safe environment that will help to reduce the risk of harm to the intoxicated person.

These facilities will include:

  • one facility for the general population with approximately 20 beds
  • facilities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with approximately six beds in total.

In regional locations, there will be on-demand places of safety where outreach teams can support Aboriginal people if they cannot safely return home or to the home of family, friends, carers or kin, and require ongoing supervision.

Follow-ups and referrals

If people consent, outreach and sobering centre staff will follow up after supporting a client and refer people into further supportive services if required or requested.

Centralised services

These will support the primary response, and consist of:

  • an intake, referral and dispatch service, which will receive incoming referrals relating to a person who needs support for being intoxicated in public, determine the most appropriate service for the individual, and dispatch an appropriate service response.
  • central advice and support, which will provide specific information about alcohol and other drugs to staff providing the outreach and sobering services.

Who can access the service

The health model will provide support to any person who meets the eligibility criteria. A person can generally access the service if they:

  • are intoxicated in public
  • are within the service region
  • do not have urgent health needs that require an emergency response
  • consent to receive the service/s.
  • do not pose a serious and imminent safety risk to themselves or other individuals.

Details about how people access the service will be made available before the service begins operating.

Services may come into contact with children and young people who are intoxicated in public or who are in the company of an adult who is intoxicated. In these cases, children and young people will be given care and support that is child safe.

What this means for the current trial sites

Four trial sites were established to help inform the health-led response to public intoxication, located in the City of Yarra, Dandenong, Castlemaine and Shepparton.

Data, feedback and other information from these trial sites continue to be used to test and refine the new service model.

We are working closely with all trial site service providers to plan for the new service model, and to support them to continue delivering services within their communities while the new model is being established.

How this new model will be evaluated

The government has provided funding for independent evaluations of the health and justice elements of these reforms. The Department of Health is working with the Department of Justice and Community Safety to develop an overarching monitoring and evaluation plan that will help ensure that there is a coordinated approach to the evaluation of the reforms with regards to the health and justice outcomes, and the operationalisation of health services and emergency responders. This work is being supported by independent Aboriginal consultants.

The final evaluation of the trial sites is expected to be completed in August 2023.

What the new model means for the Victorian public

The new health-based model will ensure that people who are found intoxicated in a public place can receive support that prioritises their health, safety and wellbeing.

These reforms and the decriminalisation of public intoxication focus on harm reduction in order to ensure that those who are intoxicated in public receive an effective response to their immediate needs. This approach will mean people can be transported to a safe location to support their recovery.

The model will also help to connect people experiencing alcohol or substance misuse with other services that can support them.

The model has been designed with input from those most impacted by the current legislation – Aboriginal people and communities throughout Victoria.

Find out more about the health-led response

For general queries regarding the public intoxication reform, please contact the team’s shared inbox at publicintoxication@health.vic.gov.au.

Latest updates

  • 4 August 2023

    A new 20 bed sobering centre will be established at 3 Cambridge St, Collingwood, delivering on key reforms and helping to keep Victorians who are intoxicated in public safe.

    The Collingwood site is close to the CBD, the highest demand area for public intoxication services, and major roads to support outreach across metro Melbourne. It is also close to public transport and St Vincent’s hospital.

    Additional outreach and sobering services for Aboriginal people will be stood up across the state following continued engagement with Aboriginal communities and health experts.

  • 30 August 2022

    In April 2022, the Victorian Government announced a deferral of the decriminalisation of public drunkenness to November 2023. Considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health sector, this deferral will maintain momentum for reforms while ensuring a safe health-based model can be developed and implemented across the state.

    On 22 June 2022, legislation was introduced to enable this deferral to November 2023, as part of the Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill.

    On 30 August 2022, the Bill received Royal Assent, enabling formal deferral of the decriminalisation of public drunkenness to November 2023.

  • 9 June 2022

    In June 2022 the Government allocated an additional $50 million to public intoxication reforms over two years (2022-23 and 2023-24). This funding will enable the continuation and expansion of the trial site program, including the establishment of standalone Aboriginal service responses in Yarra and Shepparton; an expansion of the Custodial Notifications Scheme, which provides support to Aboriginal community members detained in custody; evaluation of trial sites to inform the state-wide rollout; and implementation planning for the state-wide rollout including staffing and training costs.

Reviewed 06 August 2023

Health.vic

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