Mayor Annise Parker joined council members on Thursday to unveil the innovative Houston Recovery Center, a place where people who are intoxicated can sober up instead of being arrested. Officials say there’s only one other similar facility in Texas.
“Turns out that a significant percentage of the people we were putting in jail, were there for being generally inappropriate in public because they were under the influence of some sort of substance,” Parker said. “I don’t need them in my jail, and they don’t need the criminal record. They need help.”
Anyone brought by police to the 24-hour “sobering center” on North Chenevert Street in downtown will stay a minimum of four hours and leave without an arrest record. Recovery support specialists trained to deal with people suffering from substance abuse addiction will also offer exit counseling.
“The center will provide a kind of forced intervention and education experience for those who enter the doors,” said Leonard Kincaid, the recovery center’s director of operations. “What we will do is lead them on a pathway to recovery.”
Only those who have committed no other crimes and have no outstanding warrants will be given the option by police officers to be taken to the facility. Once there, they must clear health screenings, surrender belongings and wait to be sober.
The city spent $3 million in voter-approved public safety bonds to renovate the warehouse and will pay Star of Hope Mission $1.5 million a year to lease and staff the facility.
Two rooms were built to house 84 men and women separately. A sleeping cot and basic linens will be provided, but as Kincaid said, the facility was designed for safety, not comfort.
See here, here, here, here, and here for the background, and here for the Mayor’s press release. Besides being a good idea in its own right, opening this facility is a necessary step towards getting the city out of the jail business. I understand that there is progress being made on a joint city-county processing center, which is the other purpose of the city jail, and if all goes well that could lead to the eventual closing of the city jail. One point to keep in mind is that the Harris County Jail is no longer overcrowded, which was an obstacle to doing this kind of partnership in the past. They didn’t have enough room for their own inmates, so there was no question of taking on someone else’s inmates. That’s no longer an issue. I’m hopeful this project can proceed to its logical conclusion. Swamplot has more, and via Council Member Ed Gonzales you can see some photos from the inside of the center here.