Written 19th September 2013 by Olliers Solicitors

Police chiefs have today suggested that privately-run “drunk tanks” should be considered to tackle alcohol-fueled disorder. The phrase “drunk tank” appears to be an export from the US, where the same system is already in operation.

Drunk Tank

The idea is that a drunk individual who is a danger to themselves would be put in a cell to sober up and then pay for their care when they leave the following day. However, at present the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) do not appear to have put forward any suggestions for the level of the charge for care.

However the Police Federation said the plan was “neither a viable nor long-term fix” and added:

“This proposal throws up far more questions than answers, particularly with regards to accountability.”

Northamptonshire Chief Constable Adrian Lee, who said that police cells were not the best places for people who had got so drunk they were “incapable of looking after themselves”, said that the tax payer should not have to pay for the same, adding:

“Why don’t we take them to a drunk cell owned by a commercial company and get the commercial company to look after them during the night until they are sober?

“When that is over, we will issue them with a fixed penalty and the company will be able to charge them for their care, which would be at quite significant cost and that might be a significant deterrent.”

Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Grove also recently raised the idea of introducing drunk tanks. He said:

“Public services are a finite resource and we need to appreciate that.”

A spokesperson for the ACPO indicated that the idea would only apply to those drunks who appeared to be a danger to themselves; those under suspicion of committing offences would still be arrested and taken into custody and those requiring medical attention would still be taken to hospital.


However, the concept of the “drunk tank” raises a number of issues. At present police detain suspects when they have been arrested. They are then afforded certain rights and the police only have the power to hold suspects for a certain period of time before charging them or releasing them. Furthermore they are afforded the right to consult with a solicitor and the police have to comply with various codes of practice in the way that they deal with detainees.

Accordingly, it remains to be seen under what powers drunk persons could be kept and detained and presumably they would have to be afforded certain rights in a similar fashion. Additionally, the idea of charging individuals for their detention is likely to cause some issues and presumably there would have to be a procedure for challenging payment of the same.

Steve White, vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents officers, said he would favour “any measure that frees up police officer time and gets them back on to the streets”.

But he added:

“This proposal throws up far more questions than answers, particularly with regards to accountability.

“Privately-operated drunk tanks are neither a viable nor long-term solution to binge drinking and merely represent a sticking plaster for the problem.

“They [the police] are back on the street, where they can do the most good.”

Ruth Peters

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