County Grand Jury Urges ‘Sobering Stations’ for Public Drunks
The 1985-86 Orange County Grand Jury called Friday for county officials to leave the “14th Century” and create four “sobering stations” to treat public drunks.
Grand jurors assailed the Board of Supervisors for its “failure to find alternatives to jailing public drunks” despite recommendations from past grand juries, the sheriff and health officials.
The outgoing grand jury’s recommendation comes at a time when more and more public drunks are released or left on the street because the sheriff has stopped sending them to the overcrowded Orange County Jail.
It also comes at budget time, when a host of public agencies and nonprofit programs are scrambling for dollars in a $1.26-billion county budget that is $29 million less than the previous year for the first time in history.
The grand jurors, whose one-year term officially expires at the end of this month, argued that the practice of jailing about 7,000 drunks last year caused “serious problems and inefficiencies” for the county’s “dangerously overcrowded” jails, for police agencies and the public at large.
They said incarcerating drunks for four to eight hours while they sober up is also a waste of money, costing $55.34 for a day in jail contrasted with $7.70 in San Diego County’s drunk center and $5.11 in Los Angeles County’s center.
Jurors recommended setting up four “sobering stations” located in north, south, central and west Orange County that would accept drunks for periods of two to eight hours.
Preferably, they said these stations should be located at some of the nine existing alcohol recovery programs funded with state and federal funds, plus fines for drunk-driving offenses.
The public inebriates then might be more likely to seek detoxification and recovery help available at these facilities, they added.
“Surrounding counties are maintaining . . . very current programs at very low cost to the taxpayer, whereas Orange County is in the 14th Century as far as a complete alcohol recovery program is concerned,” said William D. Hoskins, chairman of the jury’s criminal justice subcommittee.
“Orange County spends zero dollars out of (its) general fund” on existing alcohol recovery programs, none of which accepts the public drunk who otherwise would be taken to jail to sober up, Hoskins added.
“It’s the . . . grand jury’s position that with a very small expenditure . . . the entire program could be expanded to cover the four areas we feel are necessary for a complete inebriate recovery program,” he said.
Asked where the money would come from in the already over-committed county budget, Hoskins said, “Why not start with the $250,000 the Orange County Repertory Theatre is requesting?
“If we could give that money to (Health Care Agency director) Tom Uram, he’d be off and running toward a complete recovery program.”
Asked about the $250,000, which supervisors went on record this week against giving to the repertory company, Uram said Friday, “Certainly we could do a lot with that money, but whether that would satisfy the problem, how far it would go to meet the need, I don’t know.”
Uram said how best to handle the problem is a question being studied by Health Care Agency officials.
“Certainly I think we need support for the alcoholic in this county . . . but it’s a question of whether we have the funding,” Uram said.
He noted that the county has not had a cost-of-living increase for alcohol programs in several years and this week lost a bid for more funding.
As for the specific proposal advocated by the grand jury, Uram said: “We would need to involve others in this decision. The Sheriff’s Department has certain issues of concern (in) this matter, as have the cities.”
Supervisors were not available for comment Friday and most had not yet read the report.
But Dan Wooldridge, press aide for Board Chairman Ralph B. Clark, said Friday that Clark has long believed “the county needs to be more active in this area.”
“Supervisor Clark is supportive of the program the grand jury is recommending and will work to implement the program now,” Wooldridge said.
Asked about criticism of past inaction by supervisors, Wooldridge said, “The task before us now is not to point fingers of responsibility but to proceed with quick implementation of this proposal.”