Mayor Parker seeks to open Sobering Center

February 29, 2012 2:40:11 PM PST
Houston police could soon have a new option when they arrest someone for public intoxication. Rather than taking them to jail, they'll be taken to a so-called sobering center.

Overcrowding at the city jail has been an issue for as long as anyone can remember. While it's no secret the city wants out of the jail business altogether, the proposal that's on the table now could offer a temporary fix.

It's nothing to look at now, but a warehouse on the north side of downtown could be the answer to overcrowding at the city jail. Houston Mayor Annise Parker wants to turn it into a sobering center for the staggering number of people arrested every year on suspicion of being drunk in public.

Houston police make about 60,000 Class C misdemeanor arrests every year. People in the jail for public intoxication make up about a third of the population.

Taking someone who's arrested for being drunk and disorderly to a place other than jail is allowed under Texas law. Mayor Parker isn't putting a dollar sign on the proposed center just yet but believes the services it will offer could save the city millions of dollars.

"This has benefits for the Houston Police Department, it has benefits for the city of Houston, it has benefits for the taxpayers," Parker said.

The Sobering Center is slated to open by the end of the year as part of a partnership agreement with the star of hope. Clients will get the chance to sober up, undergo a basic health screening and will be offered referral services for long-term treatment options.

"We're not taking away the option of jail from the officers. Sticking someone that is probably intoxicated, we know there's gonna be folks that over overly combative. We don't want them assaulting the staff at The Sobering Center, so if that's the situation, jail is always going to be an alternative," Houston Police Department Lt. Michael Lee said.

The center will not be an option if you're caught driving drunk or if you have outstanding warrants.

The Sobering Center will be operated as a secular public/private partnership. The Houston Police Department, Health and Human Services and Houston Fire Departments will provide city services at the site, and the Star of Hope will provide the professionals necessary to help with social services.

The center could open by the end of the year if City Council could approve the project next week.