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Queensland is planning to decriminalize public intoxication, the last Australian state to do so in an effort to tackle discrimination against the Indigenous community and other minorities, a move service providers say is “long overdue,” the Guardian reported.
During a recent parliamentary inquiry, human rights groups and service providers expressed support for decriminalizing offenses, such as public intoxication, begging and urination.
Kaava Watson of the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health said such moves were needed because these offenses “have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous people.”
“Shifting from a criminal justice response to a health and welfare response is compatible with human rights,” Watson added.
These offenses often lead to the incarceration of homeless or other vulnerable people, who struggle to pay the fines or bail conditions.
Bridget Burton, director of human rights and civil law practice at Caxton Legal Center, told the Guardian how one client was remanded after police found him lying on a bench next to a sign asking people to donate money for food. Police charged the man with begging and claimed they arrested him for his own welfare, Burton said.
The Center also had other clients who’ve been held for over a month on remand before being given bail conditions that they could never comply with because of their underlying disability, then being put back into remand. “So what we have is homeless people … [dealing with] some quite considerable periods of incarceration, relative to the very minor nature of the offense,” Burton said.
The proposed changes come more than 30 years after the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody released a final report recommending the abolition of public intoxication as a criminal offense.
Queensland is the only state that hasn’t adopted the recommendations.