A moratorium on the prosecution of low-level street and drug offences should be implemented immediately so that police can focus on assisting the community to keep well and safe, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).
“We need to minimise the number of people coming into contact with the criminal justice system during this public health emergency,” said Mr Andrew Christopoulos, National President, ALA. “It is critical that we reduce prison populations to avoid a devastating COVID-19 outbreak.
“Police resources should not be spent on minor matters, such as drug offences, but instead directed towards facilitating the public health outcomes that we are all working towards.”
The ALA supports calls from the Flemington Legal Centre’s Police Accountability Project this week to ensure that police prioritise public health needs and human rights, and avoid unnecessary and potentially harmful police interactions during this health crisis.
“We are aware of many people in our community who are finding it very difficult to follow the new COVID-19 public health orders because they simply don’t have anywhere to live, or they have a drug dependency and are fearful of prosecution,” said Mr Christopoulos.
“The government could improve the effectiveness of our crisis response by announcing a general amnesty on prosecution for the possession and use of controlled drugs for those who disclose to police or health workers that they are drug users.
“Likewise, putting a stop to the policing of low-level offences among people who are homeless would be helpful during this emergency – those without permanent housing need government support to enable them to follow the new social distancing rules, not prosecution.
“It is the vulnerable people in our community who are most likely to be negatively impacted by the police enforcement of minor offences during this crisis.
“A moratorium on these offences would enable more positive interactions between police and the community, and focus the efforts of the police on the health and safety of everyone.”