New Orleans Offers Options for Addicts

A new program gives people arrested for public intoxication the option to address larger addiction problems rather than face jail time.

Posted: 10/27/2011 09:40 AM EDT
Filed Under Crime, Health

The usual law-enforcement solution to a criminal problem is a hard-handed crackdown on offenders. But a New Orleans program is aimed at helping people charged with public intoxication to reform their lives — not fill jail cells.

Beginning Dec.  4, Louisiana residents arrested for public intoxication will have a choice: Enter detox or serve jail time at Orleans Parish Prison. The move could have positive implications for the city, which is 60 percent Black, toward reducing the numbers of Blacks ensnared in the criminal justice system.

Officials are realistic about the program, however. They realize that everyone arrested won’t want or need the use of a detox program.

"It won't really be everybody who comes in contact with NOPD. It'll be a select few people who are like, look, I have a problem, I need help, I don't have any outstanding warrants, can I go to treatment?" Amy Bosworth, program director of Odyssey House, the detox center where offenders may enter, told local news outlet WGNO-TV.

The program is part of a collaboration between the New Orleans Police Department and national nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice. In order to be eligible for the detox option, the arrested person must be a Louisiana resident and have a serious drug or alcohol problem. Police and the Vera Institute plan to gather data from the program with the hopes that it will also lead to the opening of a sobering center where people can go when they have just had one too many drinks.

In addition to helping people who may suffer from serious alcohol abuse issues, the new program may take some heat off of the embattled Orleans Parish Prison. Before Hurricane Katrina, the prison was the eighth largest in the country and is known to be disproportionately populated with Blacks, other minorities and people from the city’s low-income communities.

The prison is still wracked with problems and criticism for allegations of abuse and unintended deaths. However, the program won’t let everyone off the hook, alcohol problem or not; officials say that jail time may still be in the cards for those who are violent and non-cooperative at the time of arrest.

(Photo: LEE CELANO/Reuters /Landov)