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The Impact of Alcohol Misuse in Scotland

Scotland currently has the highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the UK. Each week, there are 22 deaths and 700 hospital admissions due to alcohol misuse. In addition, 51,000 children live with a parent who has an alcohol problem.

Addressing Scotland’s Alcohol Problem with Minimum Unit Pricing

In May 2018, the Scottish Health Secretary, Shona Robison, claimed that alcohol misuse costs Scotland £3.6 billion each year. Hence, it is perhaps unsurprising that in the spring, the Scottish Government became the first country to implement minimum unit pricing for alcohol as it sets out to tackle what the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, described as Scotland’s “unhealthy relationship with drink.”

The legislation has set a minimum of £0.50 per unit, which will raise the cost of cheap, strong drinks favoured by ‘binge-drinkers’ and vulnerable young people. This change introduced by Holyrood is expected to save 392 lives in the first five years of implementation.

Criminal Justice Reform Changes

With more than 60% of violent crime in Scotland involving alcohol, criminal justice may also be impacted by this change. Alongside public health measures, other justice reforms are in place, introducing progressive changes that combine punishment with efforts to address the underlying causes of a person’s offending.

In 2011, the Scottish Government acknowledged the ineffectiveness of short-term custodial sentences and consequently introduced a presumption against custodial sentences of less than three months. Since then, this presumption has been increased to 12 months, causing a strengthening of the community-based sentencing options available. However, with alcohol being such a significant factor in offending behaviour there is an opportunity for further justice reforms.

Scotland Supports the Use of Sobriety Tags

By expanding the range of alternative sentencing options and making use of alcohol monitoring requirements in conjunction with sobriety tags, the Scottish Government can continue its progressive stance on criminal justice policies. Implementation of such a sentencing requirement would directly address a core factor in offending behaviour and serve as both a punitive and rehabilitative treatment.

Such a move is also popular with the Scottish population. According to our 2018 polling, 95% of the public in Scotland support the use of sobriety tagging, 92% of the public support in Edinburgh, and 98% of the public support in Glasgow.

Author Profile Picture

Amit Sethi has more than 18 years’ experience working within the criminal justice sector and is now the Head of European Operations for SCRAM Systems. His previous positions include Senior Probation Prosecutor at the National Probation Service and Programme Manager at the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. He holds a degree in Law with Accountancy (BA Hons), completed the Legal Practice Course at the College of Law (London), and has received qualifications in project management.