Sobering Station: A Brief History
Continuing analysis of excessive drinking in San José and its effects on police practices and statistics...
Did you ever wonder why Santa Clara County closed its Sobering Station?The shuttering of the Sobering Station is seen by many as a key reason for the seemingly high number of public intoxication arrests made in San José.
Arrest is the only option currently available for police when dealing with an individual who is drunk enough to be a threat to the safety of others.
In July of 2009, the City Council accepted a recommendation from the City Manager’s Public Intoxication Task Force that SJPD not arrest an individual for being drunk in public until their sixth offense in a 12-month span. And though the Council also accepted a recommendation that the City examine opening a new sobering station, there remains no option for how to handle these individuals the first five times they’re stopped by police in a 12-month span.
The following are excerpts from reports by the County Chief of Corrections on the history — and closing — of the Sobering Station (emphasis mine):
The first Sobering Station contract was implemented in December of 1995, as part of a mutual agreement between the City of San Jose and the County of Santa Clara to create an alternative to booking individuals arrested for public inebriation (PC 647f). The City of San Jose paid for the program until the contract expired in June 1997. The County assumed financial responsibility of the program in July 1997.
The (SCC Department of Corrections) DOC conducted an intensive RFP process and ultimately awarded the new contract to Center for Training and Careers (CTC), effective July 1, 1997, through June 30, 2002... Reluctantly, the DOC decided to discontinue the Sobering Station Program as part of its budget reduction plan. However, upon further discussions with the CTC and City Police Departments, it was determined that alternative funding sources may be available... in order to phase out the County's financial support of the Sobering Station by the end of Fiscal Year 2003. This would result in a savings of $296,000 to the General Fund and will be part of the DOC’s future budget reduction plan...
When the County assumed financial responsibility of the Sobering Station Program in July 1997, CTC reported that they served a combined total of more than 7,500 clients during Fiscal Years 1998 and 1999. The County and CTC were optimistic that usage would continue to increase.
However, despite consistent efforts of CTC, statistics show that usage continues to decline each year. Usage during Fiscal Year 2002 was at a low 1,952. The 1,952 intakes in Fiscal Year 2002 equates to 5 people per day at a cost of $260 per intake at the Sobering Station. The DOC believes that the actual number of DOC intakes would be fewer than 1,952 because 1,078 were repeat offenders. The DOC could absorb the clients from the Sobering Station within its current budget...
Admission to the Sobering Station can only be initiated by a law enforcement officer. Clients are free to leave at any time. Admission to the Sobering Station is limited to space available; a maximum capacity of 18 beds (15 male/3 female) during peak hours (10 p.m. to 5 a.m.), and 12 beds during non-peak hours. A minimum staffing ratio of 1-6 is maintained at all times.
Each individual shall be limited to five (5) admissions. After the fifth admission, the arresting agency will be notified that the client is no longer eligible and must be booked into the DOC...
CTC's statistics show that 75% of all eligible clients picked up for Penal Code 647(f) − “public inebriation” — are currently delivered to the DOC (by participating law enforcement agencies). The remaining 25% are delivered to the Sobering Station. If the Sobering Station Program is discontinued, these additional 25% inebriants would also be delivered to the DOC.
Individuals brought to the DOC (Elmwood or Correction Center for Women) would have the added benefit from medical and mental health services while they are in the facility.
Many of the individuals booked into the DOC would remain in custody where they would have access to several programs designed to help inmates recognize and cope with their addictions. Current housing costs at Elmwood and the Correctional Center for Women are $70.27 and $86.60 per day respectively, compared to CTC costs of $260 per day that could be absorbed in the DOC’s current budget with no negative impact on the General Fund.
The program ended in 2003 after the State started reimbursing cities for their arrests booking fees. Detained individuals taken to the Sobering Station are not booked, therefore there is no reimbursement of fees from the state.
Reports on Department of Correction’s Sobering Station program to Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Justice Committee:
Ed Rast is a statistical guru and neighborhood leader. His opinions are his alone and do not necessarily represent those of any group or organization of which he is a member.