Sunday, April 27, 2008

No longer a lone voice in the sobering wilderness

I'm very pleased that the Daily Nexus wrote an article on something that I think should be at the top of the agenda for realistic change in Isla Vista and UCSB in the near future. Namely, a sobering (aka "sobriety") center in I.V. It works on State Street in Santa Barbara and can work even better in Isla Vista. I completely disagree with IVFP Lieutenant Brian Olmstead who said we already have a sobering facility: the County Jail. Nice. With this cunning observation, Olmstead flippantly ignores the huge financial and emotional costs incurred by criminalizing an event as mundane as a night of too much alcohol. The unspoken truth is that virtually all of the police officers, judges, correctional officers, university officials, alcohol and drug abuse counselors and d.a.'s got drunk when they were between the ages of 16 and 24; and I'm guessing that more than just a few of them got drunk last weekend and/or have plans to do so next weekend. What am I saying, exacly? I'm saying that there is more than an ounce of hypocrisy under-girding the "get tough on college drunkenness" mentality. The good intentions are over-shadowed by the hypocrisy. Yes, getting drunk and stumbling around in the street is different than doing it in the privacy of your own home, or at a friend's home. However, morally speaking, they are about the same. Someone that is drunk really can't be trusted to make good decisions about where they are going to be drunk. One thing that should make us all feel safer is that many in the Isla Vista community live without ready access to cars. Unfortunately, you can't say that about the rest of the local drinking population.

A sobering (or "sobriety") center in Isla Vista would save everyone money. It would save the taxpayer all of the many costs incident to booking someone into the county jail. The costs per arrest, to the taxpayer, can reach into the thousands. On average we're talking about hundreds of dollars per arrest. Consider the cost of two police officers spending about two hours between the initial contact and returning to IV or UCSB per arrestee. For wages, insurance, equipment costs, and the attending support staff costs (e.g., dispatch), this may range from about $200 to $400. Then there are the costs of booking and housing for up to 24 hours. This can also cost hundreds of dollars. Then, should the person end up in court (and most do), there are the wages of the many court personnel that are involved, including lawyers and judges. And these are all costs on the taxpayer (yes, some are off-set by fines and fees). However, should the person exercise their right to a jury trial and/or decide to initiate a lawsuit and complaint against the police and their employer, the sky is the limit on costs. We are talking about thousands of dollars in those cases, easily; all on the taxpayer. Notice I haven't even mentioned yet the costs on the individual in terms of legal fees, fines, reputational harm, as well as physical and emotional injury. These costs are unacceptable to most.

It is definitely time for a sobering center.

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