Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Detox centers instead of jail? Harris DA offers creative solution to intractable problem

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos was especially full of excellent ideas today, as mentioned in the previous post, but in particular I should highlight her suggestion that the state authorize "detox centers besides jail," so that every intoxicated person doesn't automatically become a criminal defendant.

I think that's a terrific idea. Trying to imagine what that might look like, in my mind's eye, I thought of Otis on the old Andy Griffith Show checking himself into the jail at the end of a Saturday night bender: Nobody ever seemed to charge Otis with any crime or bother bringing him before a judge, but he didn't hurt anybody driving home. TV references aside, though, it's really not a comedic suggestion: Intoxication offenses for both drugs and alcohol may cost society more to prosecute and punish than we benefit from the defendant's long-term incapacitation, but there still needs to be a short-term solution to get the drunk or drugged person off the street. A community-based detox center separate from the justice system might be just the ticket.

Lykos also felt that people with mental illness are mishandled throughout the system, expressing frustration in particular that individuals would be re-diagnosed at different points in the system "over and over again." She said that if the committee chose to revamp how Texas treats mentally ill offenders, she is "ready to be a spear carrier" for them. "I want to see y'all cut the Gordian Knot," she said.

What do folks think of the detox center idea?


Anonymous said...

Try explaining your terrific idea to the husband of the woman that was recently killed by a 46 year old drunk driver that crossed the double line and plowed into their motorcycle at noon on Saturday.

He had been released on an earlier drunk driving charge only 12 hours earlier.

Thinking a drunk will turn themselves in to a detox center rather than attempt to drive home requires too much faith in man's sense of knowing what's best after having a couple of beers.

A better suggestion is to take away their automobile after a second offense within 5 years. Take off the kid gloves.

Anonymous said...

what about the ones who don't want to detox? When I worked for the sheriff in Austin, a number of those drunkards simply liked roaming around Austin, boozing it up, "until I die or can't swallow anymore". Things that make you go hmm.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Nobody thinks "a drunk will turn themselves in to a detox center," 8:27, she's talking about when someone is taken into custody by officers. My "Otis" example referred to the lack of adjudication on the back end, not how he got there.

8:28, this wouldn't be voluntary. The question is what happens after arrest - detox or jail, court, sentencing, etc..

Anonymous said...

I went to a detox center in Dallas back in 1991 and got in a fist fight with a Jamaican high on crack. I knocked the livin hell out of him and was charged with an assault in addition to the P.I. Although it got dropped (both did), I still had to fight it. So I have mixed feelings on this. Make to too liberal and you make it unsafe. But I do see an advantage for the peaceful drunk, but not a crack head.

Prison Doc said...

Sounds like a good idea to me, especially if some kind of "forced" mainstreaming into treatment is included as a condition of subsequent probation.

The death-by-dui condition is a tough one...but taking away the cars, hell, they are going to drive anyway. And in Texas it is pretty hard to have a job if you don't have transportation, and making transportation difficult or impossible just sabotages recovery.

If there is an easy answer I have not found it.

Anonymous said...

While I am not crazy about the idea, I think you would have the support of the 'drunk' community.

Anonymous said...

The concept of a "detox center" is an outmoded one - from the 1940s and 50s. Back then it meant a place where alcoholics could get alcohol out of their systems so their tolerance level would be temporarily lowered. The hope was that if they were off booze for a few days they would quit. That almost never happened.

What it amounted to was that after spending a few days in "detox" they instead of drinking, for example, 20-30 beers a day were now drinking only 12. They would be back to 20-30 a day level within a couple of months.

Maybe you used the word "detox center" to refer to a comprehensive treatment/recovery program.

One thing to consider. If 30 alcoholics/addicts visit AA or NA in January maybe 2-3 of those would still be attending and be actively seeking recovery by April.

I know we aren't supposed to talk about this, but you can test this for yourself. Simply look at how many chemically dependent individuals who completed a four week in-patient treatment program were still attending AA/NA within 3-4 months of leaving the hospital program.

Anonymous said...

Not sure I'm opposed, but how would you address the medical issues with detoxing? Detoxing off of alcohol can be deadly.

Anonymous said...

An addict can be medically detoxed in 4-5 days. Detoxing someone and then turning them loose is malpractice.

Anonymous said...

Why do we coddle those who repeatedly offend? Our laws allow confiscation of a drug dealer's vehicle... why not take away a second offender's vehicle? With a stiff penalty like that most folks would think twice, and those that wouldn't wouldn't be able to kill others in their vehicles. I'd vote for it!

Anonymous said...

Alcoholism and drug abuser's have either a disease or thier crminally negligent.One or the other.It always insult's my intelligents that some people think that it's both,Which is it? Sick people or crminals.You cant have it both way's,which is the way people always seem to want have it.I wish the medical community and law inforcement could get on the same page about this issue and the public would make up its mind.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:09, the answer is arguably "both." Substance abuse is often a criminogenic (crime causing) factor, just as schizophrenia or post-partum psychosis can be, but that doesn't mean it's not also a health care issue, nor does it mean that every substance abuser (or schizophrenic, or mother with post-partum psychosis) will inevitably commit other crimes. I wish life were more black/white simple for you, but it's not.

5:54, what "coddling" is going on? The real problem is that we too-often punish only but provide little assistance with rehabilitation. One in 22 Texans are under supervision of the justice system already, what sentences do you think should be tuffer and how would you pay for it? Also, prosecutors use seizure laws every chance they get, but most criminals are poor. Perhaps you hadn't noticed?

Finally, just to toss it out: Does everyone found intoxicated need "treatment"? Would it be so terrible if somebody found intoxicated were taken somewhere safe until they sobered up and then released, or does every one really need to be arrested and taken to jail on a public intoxication or paraphernalia charge (Lykos wasn't talking about DWIs) to keep the public safe?

Anonymous said...

Grits, I don't really have a problem with this suggestion in regard to typical Public Intoxication offenses where the drunk is only endangering himself/herself. On the other hand, the minute this drunk gets behind the wheel of a car and exposes other innocent motorists to danger, then he or she deserves to be punished. I don't care if it's a disease or a choice at this point. Alcoholism may truly be a disease, but getting drunk and DRIVING is certainly not a disease. For these people, if you and Lykos want to make treatment available in conjunction with whatever punishment is imposed, then so be it. I hope it works. But one and certainly two "bites at the apple" for these offenders is plenty and when they demonstrate their repeated unwillingness to conduct themselves with due regard for public safety, then it's time to remove them from the public.

Anonymous said...

This idea is not new. It has been floated around Austin for years. The obstacle has been how to pay for it. Because you are basically operating a secure medical clinic, it is very expensive and, as previous writers have pointed out, you end up with a revolving door on the front of the building because you can stop a drunk from drinking.
Now if you develop a pill that makes a person sick if they touch alcohol you might stop all the repeat offenders but the civil libertarians won't go for that.

Don said... mean a pill like antabuse (disulfiram) which has been in use for decades? That's exactly what it does--makes you deathly ill if you drink after taking it. Doesn't do anything if they don't take it, incidentally.

Alex S. said...

The only way an alcoholic/addict is going to terms with his disease is for him to hit bottom--whether that be jail/prison/hospital. I am all for giving them treatment instead of jail, but at some point, after the addict/alcoholic has refused to follow the program, there must be consequences such as jail or even prison. That's the only way they will ever hit bottom. I don't know that going to a detox center will do anything for the addicted, except to give them the message that there are serious consequences for their actions

Anonymous said...

seMy child is currently in a TX county jail - violation of probation charge. He is dual diagnosis (mental illness/substance abuse). Here are the options offered to him: Rehab in Overton, TX - apparently this is the only facility the big old state has to offer, and they won't take anyone with a mental illness. SAFE-P - this is the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice's answer to repeat offenders, and they won't take anyone who is on psych meds, either. Here's something to think about - SAFE-P is a tough program, run like a military boot camp. Now, the military will not accept anyone with a mental illness, and do you know why? Because they would NEVER MAKE IT THROUGH BOOT CAMP!! Only other option is prison, and I can't see that helping any of these kids with a mental illness.

Anonymous said...

Re: Mom's Child in Jail - I would also like to comment on the treatment these people receive in our county jails. Now, maybe they're not all like this, and I can only speak for what we've been dealing with, but it is appalling. My child was on a large amount of drugs prescribed by his psychiatrist. While I did not agree with his doctor's prescribing all those meds, I certainly didn't expect the jail staff to take him off everything cold turkey, including his medication for BiPolor Disorder. As most medical people SHOULD know, that can be very dangerous. My child has been through living hell trying to cope with detox AND the return of the BiPolar Disorder symptoms. In fact, he became so ill that he couldn't keep anything on his stomach and after DAYS of not being able to eat or drink, he had to be transported to the hospital because he collapsed. We, the parents, were never even notified of this. Even then, the jail staff were very sure he was "faking it" and had the paramedics jab a needle in his foot to see if he would react. Even this was not good enough, and the paramedics practically stood on his chest to get a reaction to pain, so hard that it left a bruise. Still no reaction, so he was taken to the ER where he was diagnosed with dehydration/malnourishment and a UTI. I don't know of any parent that would want their child, or any loved one for that matter, to go through torture like that.

Atticus said...

@ 10;37 p.m. on 6/30: Your figures are horribly incorrect. Are you just making them up? While AA and NA are not perfect solutions, their percentages after 3-6-9 months of those who continue to work their programs are much higher than what you are claiming. And even if it is only a few who continue, more power to them for having the discipline to turn their lives around. Recovery is still a life-long effort. Keep on keepin' on, folks.

Anonymous said...

Anny 2:14: Sue their asses. If more counties were held accountable for actions like this, I believe they would handle their trusts differently. Plus, class action lawsuits scare the hell out of the people in authority who (at best) turn a blind eye to this kind of thing.

TDCJEX said...

R Shakelford . The person who was taken off of meds in a county lock up usually cannot sue . Most jails have a policy that they can prohibit any thing other than drugs approved for that facility . I know of a person who did try to sue and was told by at least 10 attornies and the ACLU that they did not have a case. The county will say security and that covers just about anything they want .

The ACLU and other organizations are usually instead in cases that will make policy via case law .It would have to be a large class at least a few hundred for them to take notice . One person they could care less a though each states branch has its one pet issues . In the Northeast and west coast it was gay marriage . That alienated a lot of people who they refused to help. I think that getting proper medication in prison is far more important than gay marriage .

I would seek out some one who can find a good attorney who is willing to fight this I wont post names publicly .

You are right government agencies fear a class action suit. It is much more difficult to intimidate a lot of people than one or two . Also a number of similar claims makes the case a lot stronger . It is also easier to make a case if a number of people can show in court that the defendant did something wrong or illegal .

There is a drug as mentioned called Antabuse . It has potential lethal side effects and can trigger a reaction should you so much as come into contact with alcohol it is in may things you do not have to consume it either . A alcohol wipe used to clean your hands can trigger a reaction using, some soaps , or cleaning agents can trigger the reaction . It is not commonly used because of this and the fear of a legitimate lawsuit .It is not easy to force a person to take a drug and the idea is very troubling that the state can tel you via force of law to ingest any substance that alters your body or thoughts . That is a realm we should avoid at all costs . I don't want to begin down that road

We already have legal precedent that requires a You be taken to court to be forced to take a drug it There is plenty of legal precedent about it You can spend hours on Google scholar legal opinion

Here you go

There are already laws that deal with the action while a person is intoxicated . We can deal with it and being intoxicated is not a excuse .The substance umost used while committing a crime is alcohol then

If we want to look at the most harmful drug in term of costs and health that would be nicotine then alcohol . It has nothing to do with them being legal either. It is what they do they are what Pharmacologists call dirty drugs .

Why not stop the problem before it gets to the level of need legal intervention and find out why a person becomes an addict no one wakes up one day and decides to be an addict

BTW No it is not tire that once a addict always one . There is not a scintilla of evidence outside o if the thought stopping mantras spouted in 12 step meetings that say so .
Lets try some evidence based things . This has been around for a while

Drugs courts will fail simply because we do not deal with why a person drinks despite what these “experts” say why is very important .

Besides it humans have sought ways to alter their consciousness and become intoxicated for at least two million years . yes humans have been around for possibly over 2. 5 million years .
I know we can do better than what we now do