Would “Drunk Tanks” Be Cheaper, More Effective than Jail?


Opening a sobering center — a drunk tank where the 19,000 people picked up for public intoxication in Houston every year could be taken in lieu of jail — could save money and help connect chronic alcoholics with the assistance they need, police, mental health advocates, and a City Council member tell the Houston Chronicle.

Proponents envision a center staffed by substance abuse professionals who could counsel alcoholics and connect them with housing, treatment, and other services. “It’s a more humane way of dealing with alcoholics,” said Houston police Lt. Mike Lee. The city may be able to run a sobering center for a little more than half the $5.8 million currently spent on public intoxication annually, Lee said. “It’s not going to be free and it’s not going to be cheap,” Lee said. The savings could be critical as Houston seeks to close a $130 million budget gap. Of the Houston Police Department’s 139,617 arrests last year, 19,587 were for public intoxication.

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