Wednesday, August 22, 2012

An alternative to jailing the homeless

Once again kudos are due to a target of my barbs. This time it's Annise Parker, the mayor of Houston, who is presiding over the construction of a two-story warehouse that will serve as a sobriety center for our fellow Houstonians who have a tad bit too much to drink.

Now, instead of arresting folks for public intoxication and hauling them off to the city jail, the police can drop them off at the city's sobriety center. The facility will cost the city about $1.5 million a year, as opposed to the $4-6 million a year it costs the city to operate the city jail.

It is estimated that most of the people arrested for public intoxication, a Class C misdemeanor, are homeless. The sobriety center will move the city one step away from the policy of criminalizing homelessness.

It also brings a little bit of sanity to the situation. According to the penal code, it is against the law to be out in public and so intoxicated that you place yourself or others at risk. Most of the people arrested for public intoxication are sleeping at the time of their arrest. A good chunk of the other arrests for PI are of passengers in cars in which the driver is arrested for some other offense.

When the homeless are arrested for public intoxication they are booked into the city jail and taken before a municipal court judge the following day at which time they are offered a time served (or an extra night at the city's expense) and a complimentary conviction.

The problem of alcoholism and homelessness is not a story of criminal behavior. It's a story of a societal problem that we have done all we can to brush under the rug. Mayor Parker's embrace of the sobriety center is a step in the right direction.

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