Austin intoxications crimes defense lawyer Kevin Bennett said building the center is a good idea, and the local governments should move ahead with the project.
"As a society, we desperately need to incarcerate fewer people, and the sobriety center is a step in the right direction," he said. "The sobriety center puts resources where they need to be, keeping dangerous criminals off the street."
While the county and the city would have to establish procedures for the center, most sobering centers allow police who apprehend people in public places, like Sixth Street, who are alleged to be intoxicated and take them to the center. Typically, the centers have large rooms with several beds where people can "sober up." They usually have access to water to hydrate, and medical personnel are present to assist anyone who needs it. They are released several hours later.
Those sent to the sobering center may still receive citations for public intoxication, minor in consumption and other nonviolent offenses related to alcohol. Most are Class C misdemeanors, punishable by a fine up to $500 and eight to 12 hours of community service for a first offense.
The citation will have a court date. The person charged's best option is to seek the assistance of a defense attorney to resolve the charges, Bennett said. A so-called "minor charge" can have serious consequences. Like any other criminal charge, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt, and a lawyer can help show the reasonable doubt.
Most people arrested for public intoxication are not dangerous, Bennett said. However, police use significant time taking them to jail and booking them, where they then eat up jail staff time. The sobriety center can significantly reduce that waste of resources, Bennett said.
Sobering centers also assist with other important public policy concerns. The American College of Emergency Physicians has endorsed them because the centers reduce the number of homeless alcohol-dependent people that arrive in emergency rooms, especially among the homeless population. Nearly one to five percent of ER visits are alcohol-related, according to the ACEP.
According to data collected by ACEP, many clients of sobering centers are repeat clients. For instance, out of 4,450 client encounters at the San Francisco Sobering Center, there were only 1,500 unique clients.
"This is an excellent proposal and solid criminal justice policy," Bennett said. "Austin and Travis County should move forward with it."
Kevin Bennett, of the Law Office of Kevin Bennett, is an Austin criminal defense lawyer (http://www.kevinbennettlaw.com/