Houston Mayor Annise Parker today unveiled the first phase of her plan to help address overcrowding in the city jail. The new approach diverts public intoxication cases from the jail to a Sobering Center to receive care from social service professionals. Located in north downtown Houston, minutes from the city jail and municipal courts, the Center is slated to open by the end of 2012 as part of a public/private partnership agreement with the Star of Hope.
“Incarcerating individuals whose only criminal behavior is public intoxication diverts law enforcement from more serious or life threatening crimes,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “Sobering centers in other cities have proven to be time savers for patrol officers, allowing them to quickly return to their assigned neighborhoods to deal with more serious crimes.”
The Sobering Center will provide intoxicated individuals, who often pose a hazard to themselves as well as to the general public, an alternative to jail. The option will not be available to those caught driving drunk or with outstanding warrants. Those who choose to go to the Sobering Center will be observed and given necessary outpatient services to manage various intoxication levels. Once sober, detainees will be offered opportunities for long-term treatment with appropriate social service agencies. The activities of the Sobering Center will be fully consistent with medical professionals’ definition of the treatment of addiction as a disease, focusing on short-term treatment and intervention opportunities delivered by professionals.
The Center will be operated as a secular public/private partnership. The Houston Police Department (HPD), Health and Human Services and Houston Fire Departments(HFD) will provide city services at the site, and the Star of Hope will provide the professionals necessary to help with social services.
Currently, City of Houston spends about $25 million per year in jail operations, of which an estimated $4-6 million is attributed to public intoxication cases.
A 501(c)3 foundation will also be created to aid in future fundraising for operations and possible future expansion.
An advance funding request to complete construction drawings, including cost estimates for planning and detailing capital improvements, is expected to be on the City Council agenda on March 7.