Thursday, July 22, 2010

Harris DA Pat Lykos describes detox center idea

In response to a query from Grits, Harris County DA Pat Lykos emailed me today with a little more detail on the idea she proposed at the House Corrections Committee hearing last month to create detox centers where police could take intoxicated people instead of jail. She writes:
Detoxification Centers:  
When a person is intoxicated in public, that individual is vulnerable and endangered and can be a danger to others; it is also a quality of life issue in our neighborhoods.  The offense is under 49.02 PC.  Currently, such individuals are subject to arrest and jail.  This consumes enormous resources in arresting, transporting, booking, jailing and releasing them.  Officer time out of service leaves our communities unprotected.  Leaving such person on the streets where they can come to harm often engenders ambulance calls and emergency room treatment.
I propose a center, where an officer can transport such individuals, where EMTs monitor them until they are sober and free of symptoms.   Personnel can work with those with  more serious problems and assist in moving them into recovery and treatment programs or facilities.  
This is a cost-effective, humane remedy that will increase public safety and health, and perhaps transform lives in a positive way.
Please be advised that the persons described above are not operating a motor vehicle.  DWIs are specifically excluded. 
It'd be interesting to get a count of how many such offenders are presently arrested and taken to jail each day, but I'll bet on Saturday night in Houston it's a not insignificant number. (In my mind's eye, I think they should call it the Otis Campbell Detox Center - giving Mayberry's town drunk a safe place to dry out seems to be sort of the model.) It's a good idea, keeping petty cases out of the courts and giving officers an option to take folks someplace besides jail that won't result in their prosecution.

I wonder: What besides funding are the barriers to such an idea? Clearly the commissioners court would be required to pay for such a center and related health services, though that'd likely be cheaper than adding a new jail wing. Are there any legal barriers to police taking someone into custody if they're not arrested pending adjudication? I don't know the answer to that, though at the hearing Chairman Jim McReynolds told Lykos the Corrections Committee would work her on the suggestion.

I'd link to other press coverage on this, but besides earlier Grits posts here and here, there hasn't been any. The idea deserves wider discussion.


Hook Em Horns said...

I like Pat Lycos. She seems to have more compassion and common sense toward addiction than the previous D.A. I applaud her for being pro-active on issues instead of reactionary.

Anonymous said...

I'm ok with it Grits, but the drunk is going to have to pay in some form for this. The financial aspects of such a program should not fall back on local taxpayers.

Yes, I pay now but I don't want to burdened with having to pay for another holding facility at the expense of someone who can't control their consumption.

Alan said...

Dallas has a detox center run by the City, where the only inmates are public intoxication offenders. It's miles from the jail. They remain until they're sober and pose no threat to themselves or others. I think they are technically arrested. They leave with a "released to appear" form requiring appearance at municipal court within 21 days to either pay a fine or enter a plea. It isn't as friendly as Otis got, but it may be as good as is politically possible these days.

doran said...

D.A. Lycos did not speak precisely in saying that "When a person is intoxicated in public, that individual is vulnerable and endangered and can be a danger to others....Currently, such individuals are subject to arrest and jail."

Penal Code Sec. 49.02 explicitly recognizes that a person can be intoxicated and NOT be a danger to others or to herself: "A person commits an offense if the person appears in a public place while intoxicated to the degree that the person may endanger the person or another."

LEOs in Houston may have a policy of arresting every person they encounter who is intoxicated, on the basis that God, or a judge, can sort out those who are a danger from those who are not. But they are acting contrary to the Penal Code if they arrest someone who is intoxicated but not to the degree required by Sec. 49.02. The prophylactic benefits of such arrests, as described by Ms. Lycos, are not justified by the plain language of 49.02. And they should not be: Such arrests would be the same as preventative detentions or arrests, made without probable cause. Looking at it another way, an arrest of that kind is an abuse of the arresting officer's authority or office, which is itself a criminal offense, and is perhaps even kidnapping.

I think the idea of detox centers is worthwhile, but that it will require a whole lot of work before it can be implemented. There will have to be some changes to the Penal Code, and some new, enabling legislation.

One of the most obvious problems has to do with police taking intoxicated people to a detox center rather than to jail. I suspect that this task will have to be done by someone other than a cop.

Anonymous said...

oh Grits, are you aware that alchol detox can be an ICU admit? THat people have actually died from the detox process? I'll never forget the person who came to my hosp in the early '90s with an order for 60cc of "clear liquor of pt choice" every 1 hour while awake.
aint' alcohol sexy?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:45, you saw that the DA suggested having medical personnel onhand? Perhaps not. Are you saying you think this is a bad idea, and if so can you stop the snide whining long enough to say why it is? I have no idea what you're babbling about.

Anonymous said...

I'm just curious who has the authority to detain anyone with neither a warrant nor evidence of a crime.

I'm guessing that that objection can be overcome by testing for and documenting public intoxication (which ups the paperwork a bit, but not near as much as formal charges do).

@4:00 - would an actual new facility be necessary? Or just a change in staffing at an existing facility (or a wing thereof)? Like Grits suggested, Otis just checked himself into and extant facility - he created no burden.

Sorry to be popping off anonymously, Grits. Google's messing with me.


Anonymous said...

I'm just curious who has the authority to detain anyone with neither a warrant nor evidence of a crime.

PI can be a crime.

As for whether or not they can be held without being arrested, I'm sure you can give them a choice: "Hey buddy, I can either arrest you and send you to jail, or take you to the city detox place where you can get a cab home when you're sober. Which would you like?"

I'm sure any "detained without arrest" issues would be cleared up right there.


Anonymous said...

Also, all people admitted to jail are supposed to be checked out by a doctor, so any detox issues that would be encountered in the new facility would also be an issue in jail. Except arguably a staff of EMTs would be in a better position to treat the drunks.


Anonymous said...

In the old days, where I was a cop, we used to just take the drunks home or let them sleep it off in the jail as long as they weren't combative. The combative ones woke up the next morning a little worse for being subdued, but as long as they hadn't injured anyone, there were no criminal charges. I was in a community of around 120,000, and the system worked well for us.

Anonymous said...

I wonder: What besides funding are the barriers to such an idea?

Offhand, I'd say that security is a big one. Many of the drunks will want to leave. Some will want to fight, especially each other, but also the people who brought them and those who are trying to care for them.

While some cops use the "he's intoxicated in public so he goes to jail" standard for P.I., that's not actually the legal standard listed in 49.02. It says that they must represent a danger to themselves or other people. A tipsy guy walking down the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets doesn't meet that standard, and believe it or not, a lot of us cops would just as soon leave a friendly, non-dangerous drunk alone to walk home. (Yes, some of us actually got into the field to help people, without oppressing the innocent. But that's for another discussion.)

As such, those that I tend to bring in are usually either sloppy drunk, or are the rancorous ones, who challenge all with florid language, and really need to sleep it off in a locked cell. I've met some really nice people who, once loaded, are very unsavory people that want to fight any and all. (Never had to fight a pothead. Makes you wonder about our restrictive laws, doesn't it? Hm.)

In Denton County, they've just gone back to an older system, whereby we can actually drop off the drunk with a signed citation for PI, with a court date attached, and the Jail holds them for four hours or until they're sobered up. NO BOOK-IN PAPERWORK!!! This is a God-send, and is worthy of being the model for other agencies. The drunk gets released with the citation (which he may well not recognize, having signed while drunk, so it's a good thing that he signs for his property upon leaving, and actually has a chance to see it), the Jail gets to clear their space without housing him, the Arraigning Magistrate doesn't have to see him, a record is kept, and the cops get back on the street faster. Simplify.

The Jufiar Family 2005 said...

Well, that's nice, give those driving while intoxicated the penthouse suite at a Hilton when they are picked, meanwhile, I'm fighting to get my license back because of an expired license ticket that I received in 2006 and had surcharges due that suspended my license. Full time nursing student, full time job, mom to 4 yr old, and pay my taxes.....This country is ridiculous. HUMANE? I can tell you what humane is, not caudling drunks in a sobriety house, humane is putting a dying animal out of its misery...That's humane

Anonymous said...

Jufiar, the DA said that DWIs would NOT be eligible for this.

I really like this idea, but I see a huge fight ahead of us in the Lege if this ever gets that far. It's hard enough to get zoning approval halfway houses in this state let alone all-out detox centers. I am sure many cops will jump on the opportunity to transport someone to one of these centers rather than to jail. I also see that the "detention without arrest" problem would be null since police can detain someone who is mentally ill and transport them to a mental health facility without arrest already.

I, honestly, would like to see this type of facility as an option for police statewide, but who is going to pay for it in a time when "death to big government" is a popular mantra? Sure, we can fund it through municipal court fines or adding $20-50 to criminal court costs, but we all know this is not politically positive. Let's hope reason wins on this one.

Anonymous said...

I think we all understand that Texas has far more inmates per capita than most states; the detox concept has been in practice for 40years in a number of other states across the country. The well established successes of the concept in all of the areas mentioned is easily researched; good for DA Lykos in suggesting a very efficient way to redirect some very valuable LE resources

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jufiar, it's ironic that you're so judgmental on this and yet are simultaneously struggling with the surcharge issue. You realize when we're fixing the DRP, we're fixing it for DWIs too, right?

Anonymous said...

The take I get from the Harris County DA is that this, along with other remedies being looked at not discussed here are more about the economics of trying to find solutions to jail expense and overcrowding.

Many times the solutions end up becoming the problem.

In this particular case a class C misdemeanor PI charge would appear to be receiving a great deal of attention, but in truth it is much ado about nothing. The numbers associated with PI do not add up to (adding) anything new, this is tantamount to building a bridge to nowhere. The time spent for research and the discussion by lawmakers, if this concept makes it to first base, is in and of itself a complete waste of tax dollars.

As the police officer’s post would suggest, police do not normally arrest the happy drunk that’s walking down the street. Most of those who find themselves locked up are there because their inebriation (has) created a problem.

For those who tend to not handle their alcohol in a peaceful manner the charge usually ends up being bumped up to a more serious offense and rightfully so, drunk or not if you are going to start a fight you need to go to jail.

You have stated that your politics are neither left nor right, that these things have lost all meaning and that you’re more interested in the ideas and policies of candidates that resonate with you personally, something I believe is more prevalent and the consensus of the majority in our society, more now than ever before. We seek political substance.

Common sense solutions to real problems should be what we seek to find, this is a discussion about the possibility of finding a solution to what exactly?

On its face it does not address DWI, and if we want to find intoxicated people to sit down with and psychoanalyze then why not start out with the chaise lounge set up at every political function, then we can move on to every bar, then on to all the restaurants that serve up more than one glass of wine to its patrons, get real.

I think if we are ever going to have serious discussion about jail expense and overcrowding, then let’s begin with what we have done to correct things that were never broken in the first place, and then address what can truly be accomplished at little or no expense in order to move forward. There are many policies that have been adopted in Harris County that are incredibly expensive, they have produced nothing positive, and only exist to grow government.

Stop spending and start governing should be the mantra.

Anonymous said...

It's time the medical community and law inforcement bceome more intrertwined and understanding of the role of substance abuse and mental illness that often end's up in crimes commited.Or Am I being naive and this is just another ploy over money.