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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
“I went to the same call over and over again, encountered the same individual, and ended up arresting them on the same charge: public intoxication,” said an officer at the Tulsa Sobering Center’s 2018 Open House for Law Enforcement. Like many others in the Tulsa (Oklahoma) Police Department (TPD), he was frustrated with the futility of locking people up for simply being drunk in public—not to mention the waste of time that could be devoted to more pressing public safety needs.
In Tulsa, where approximately 60 percent of municipal arrests were for public intoxication, law enforcement officers, local criminal justice professionals, and members of the community, were all fed up with a process that does little to solve the problem of alcohol abuse—and in fact compounds it. In addition to the cost of housing offenders in jail, there’s the financial burden on arrested individuals and their families, which can include loss of income as well as court costs. Moreover, putting substance abusers behind bars seldom cures them of addiction. If anything, it may make them more dependent.
To turn the situation around, the TPD collaborated with 12&12, a Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Center (CCARC) to create the Tulsa Sobering Center (TSC). A 24/7 facility which provides a place to “sleep it off” for adults who meet the legal definition of intoxication, TSC can keep individuals who have committed no other offense out of the criminal justice system while also helping them get treatment for their addiction.
According to TPD Deputy Chief Jonathan Brooks, from the opening of the center in May, 2018 to August of 2019, more than 1,000 people have been detained at the center, with only about 103 offenders returning to it.
He attributes this low recidivism rate to the counseling and rehabilitation 12&12 provides, as well as their medically supervised drug or alcohol detoxification treatment. While detainees are in the center, they can choose to take advantage of any of these services and continue as long as needed. So far, 95 people have entered the detox program and 46 of them have moved into residential treatment.
Though officers are required to send individuals accused of additional charges, such as driving under the influence of alcohol, to jail, they can use their discretion to take inebriated adults accused of no other offense directly to the center, where detainees are held for 10 to 12 hours. At the end of the holding period, these individuals are released without criminal charges, court dates, or a record of arrest.
The center, which can house up to 25 men and 17 women, was built with a donation from the Tulsa-based Hardesty Family Foundation; the city of Tulsa pays 12 & 12, Inc. to operate it.
It’s an investment that pays off in various ways. The financial savings from not having to keep as many people in jail is one benefit, but just as important is the time savings for officers who will not be tied up with the paperwork required to make an arrest and can return to the field faster. Deputy Chief Brooks estimates that it takes 90 minutes to book someone into jail, but an average of 10 minutes to get someone into the Sobering Center.
Sending individuals to the center instead of jail also saves them and their families court costs and fines, as well as the collateral damage from job loss. Most importantly, it has been successful in directing many of them into treatment programs.
Brooks recalls the story of a woman who had been in and out of jail several times as a result of her addiction. She had lost her job, her family, and home, and had resorted to prostitution for income. According to Brooks, since entering the TSC, she has turned her life around and now has a stable job and family situation.
“She credits the police officer who delivered her to the Sobering Center and the treatment services from 12&12 for making it possible,” says Brooks. “And she’s not unusual. Many others in the program have been connected to treatment and peer groups that gave them the support they needed to continue, find housing and jobs.”
The TPD officers have been equally enthusiastic about the TSC. “Initially, there was some resistance,” says Brooks. “But they’ve seen the real, positive outcomes in people’s lives, as well as a reduction in repeat and unnecessary arrests. Plus, they are very happy about how quickly they can get a participant into the TSC and return to the streets.“
Moreover, the entire Tulsa community benefits from the TSC. Connecting addicted individuals with continuing care reduces the number of adults who end up behind bars and unable to work or care for their families.
By treating those who are addicted to alcohol or other substances—or preventing first-time offenders from going down that path—the TSC program saves the police, the city, and the courts time and money, while also improving the safety and quality of life for members of the community.
In a July 10, 2019 article in Tulsa World, Mayor G.T. Bynum called the center a key resource for police officers, the municipal court, and the city as a whole. “This first year in operation shows what we can accomplish when we put common sense programs in place that focus on underlying causes of crime: better outcomes for residents, better use of taxpayer dollars, and a safer city for us all,” Bynum said.
Sr. Technical Writer
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