Thinking Outside the Bars

Council Member Ed Gonzalez, a former Houston police officer for 18 years, proposed a new idea for Houston’s jails.  Instead of incarcerating people for public intoxication, the city might start putting them in a sobering center, or a “drunk tank” instead.  CM Gonzalez said, “‘It would just be a simple opportunity to allow them to sleep it off.  It would be a low amount of time that they’re in there – it’s not an extended period. And an opportunity I hope we could insert in the process is at least creating a point of access for recovery services as well.’”

Apparently it takes a police officer two or more hours to take a person to jail, but it would take about 15 minutes to turn them over to a sobering center.  Without the arrest record and court appearances, meals, and medical attention, it is likely that it would cost the city a little more than half of the $5.8 million currently spent annually on public intoxication.

I think this is certainly an idea worthy of consideration.  Surely there would be many questions to answer and bugs to work out before implementing something like this, but ultimately, if they do it right, I think it could really be beneficial to the city and to the residents here.  Sometimes people make mistakes and drink too much, and as long as they are not behind the wheel or doing something that hurts someone else, there is really no reason to give them a criminal record (especially on the first offense).  This might also go a long way towards fixing the overcrowding in the jails as well.

We will see how this idea pans out, as it looks like it has been in the works for a long time – at least since March 2011.  Great job, CM Gonzalez!

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