Getting arrested and criminally charged with public intoxication in Austin’s Travis County might soon be a thing of the past, reports the Austin American-Statesman. An effort by criminal justice and medical officials is under way to open a sobriety center — “drunk tank” to many — that would effectively decriminalize public intoxication, which over five years has resulted in 27,000 arrests in Austin, 10 percent of all arrests. Those charged with public intoxication are taken to jail, fingerprinted, have mug shots taken and face future court hearings and costs.
Under a new plan, police would detain intoxicated suspects and take them to the center. Offenders would face no criminal charges and would be free to leave with no other consequences after becoming sober. Supporters have advocated for a noncriminal approach to public drunkenness for more than a decade, noting that criminally prosecuting such cases is expensive and does little long-term good. “I think many people recognize that substance use is a problem in our community, but jail doesn't solve that problem specifically,” said Travis County Court-at-Law Judge Nancy Hohengarten. “I do not see where incarcerating them has led them to quit abusing alcohol.”