New Jail for Public-Intox Arrests Announced

If you've been arrested for public intoxication -- and it's a favorite charge if you've somehow pissed off a cop without doing anything illegal -- things will soon be different for you in Houston.

Instead of their being thrown in with the general population at the city jail, Mayor Annise Parker announced today PI suspects will be taken to a "sobering center" in a separate facility.

The move will ease overcrowding at the jail and allow alleged drunks to sober up in peace.

"Incarcerating individuals whose only criminal behavior is public intoxication diverts law enforcement from more serious or life-threatening crimes," Parker said. "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 center, near the municipal courts, will open by the end of the year and is part of a public/private partnership agreement with the Star of Hope, the city said. The cost of the new facility will be presented to council next month, when Parker will seek funds for construction drawings.

The center will not be available for anyone caught driving drunk or with outstanding warrants.

Here's the city's description:

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 city, by the way, says it spends about $25 million per year in jail operations, of which an estimated $4-6 million is attributed to public intoxication cases.

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