Offering Opportunities for Recovery Instead of Jail Time


IN TULSA, Oklahoma, residents who are detained for public intoxication are given an option other than going to jail: they can choose to go to Tulsa Sobering Center, a facility that specializes in addiction treatment and recovery.

After they sober up during a minimum 10-hour (or maximum 12-hour) stay, individuals have another decision to make: They can receive treatment for their addiction, or a staff member will call them a cab home. Either way, they won’t have anything added to their criminal record.

For a city where public intoxication accounts for 60 percent of municipal arrests, the 6-month-old program could have a major impact on incarceration rates and costs by offering those with a substance use disorder–who are often repeat offenders–a chance to recover. The program could also help unseat Oklahoma from its position as the state with the highest incarceration rate. Though it’s too early to tell exactly how effective the program has been, preliminary data show that many people are choosing the Sobering Center instead of jail.

“What we’ve found is, even when they’re intoxicated, the vast majority of folks take door number two when you give them that option,” says Tulsa’s Republican Mayor G.T. Bynum, who implemented the initiative last May, only a few months into office.

So far, 391 people have been checked into the facility, according to Deputy Chief of Police Jonathan Brooks. Just 21 of them have been taken there more than once.

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