City officials plan to open a "sobering center" at the Star of Hope Mission downtown later this year. It would be an 84-bed facility that would allow people whose only offense is being drunk to bypass jail.
Houston police arrest 19,000 people a year for public intoxication, racking up $4 million to $6 million in jail costs. A sobering center aims to divert drunks from jail and free up cells for more dangerous offenders. Dropping off a person at the center, instead of booking him into jail, also would let officers to return to patrol more quickly.
A person brought to the sobering center would have to stay at least four hours, until he sobers up, and would not have an arrest put on his record.
"Jail should be for violent people that we need to get off the street," not a place to merely sober up, said Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a former city police officer who has championed the sobering center idea.
The center also may do a better job than jail at addressing chronic substance abusers, Gonzalez said.
"I don't think jail is a deterrent" to chronic abuse, he said. "They consume or abuse because they have abuse issues. Punishment isn't a substantial stick anymore."In a statement, Mayor Annise Parker declared that "Incarcerating individuals whose only criminal behavior is public intoxication diverts law enforcement from more serious or life-threatening crimes," adding that "Sobering centers in other cities have proven to be time savers for patrol officers, allowing them to quickly return to their assigned duties to deal with more serious crimes."
When Lykos first suggested the idea, Grits quipped that "In my mind's eye, I think they should call it the Otis Campbell Detox Center," comparing the tactic to "giving Mayberry's town drunk a safe place to dry out."
Every effort to divert low-level cases from the justice system is a worthy experiment, in this writer's view, but it remains to be seen how well the idea works in practice, whether HPD uses it, not to mention what criteria will be used to decide that the "sobering center" is more appropriate than the jail. For homeless frequent flyers in particular I can see it becoming a tremendous boon. And it's good to see city leaders spending on diversion programs first instead of automatically sinking more money into the city jail. According to Moran, "The city stands to save millions a year if it can offload a substantial portion of its public drunkenness cases to a facility where the detainees do not have to be fed nor as closely monitored as they would be in jail."
Kuff points to a press release on the topic, adding that "The city jails, and ways to reduce costs on them, were a subject of the Mayor’s inaugural speech." More from Hair Balls.