Debbie McCully wasn’t at the podium Wednesday morning when local officials gathered at the Tulsa Sobering Center to celebrate the facility’s first year of operation.
She stood off to the side, away from the dignitaries. But as supervisor of the center, she knew exactly why Mayor G.T. Bynum and others had come to sing its praises.
She has met many of the more than 700 people brought to the center by Tulsa police since it opened in late May of 2018. And for most, it was the low point in their lives, she said.
“A lot of times when they’re first here, they’re not interested, especially if they’ve got a little money,” McCully said. “They want to go back and drink.”
Drinking, of course, is why police transported them to the Sobering Center, 6333 E. Skelly Drive, in the first place. The center was established as an alternative to jail for individuals facing a public intoxication charge.
“We just work with them,” McCully said. “We talk with them. We treat them like human beings. That’s what they are. They haven’t committed a crime, they have a disease.”
Tulsa Police Deputy Chief Jonathan Brooks said the program has helped make the city safer and taken some pressure off the busy court system. It’s also saved taxpayers money.
Brooks noted that the 767 people who entered the Sobering Center in its first year — May 30, 2018 to May 31, 2019 — were transported there by 268 different officers.
Once there, police spent an average of eight minutes at the Sobering Center. Had those individuals been taken to the jail, officers would have spent hours booking in each one.
Individuals facing public intoxication charges typically spend at least two days in jail, at a cost to the public of about $140, Brooks said.
“So now we are talking about the difference between hours and minutes to getting those officers back out and having safer streets for the city of Tulsa,” Brooks said.
The program’s primary objective, Brooks said, is to make the community better by helping people address the underlying issues that cause them to abuse alcohol and drugs. Unlike most other sobering centers, the Tulsa Sobering Center has detox and treatment facilities provided by the 12&12 addiction recovery center.
Tulsa Sobering Center was built in the Hardesty Family Foundation Wing of 12&12. It includes 25 beds for males and 17 beds for females. The facility is staffed by 12&12.
Those who land in the Sobering Center are not charged with a crime and are provided with a place to sleep and shower.
They must stay 10 hours but no longer than 12 hours. In the first year of operations, 47 of the 767 people taken to the center made the trip twice.
Seventy-three people went through 12&12’s detox program, and 32 of those went on to receive treatment.
“What we are doing now is grabbing them out of the revolving door of the criminal justice system and immediately connecting them to counseling services,” Brooks said. “We’re not wasting days or even hours.”
Mayor G.T. Bynum called the center a “success in every way we can measure it.”
“It has the great combination of being good policy and also a cost savings,” he said.
The Sobering Center is a joint venture between the city of Tulsa and 12&12. The Hardesty Family Foundation provided the funds to construct the facility.
McCully said that more than anything, the program is about giving people hope.
“Our big thing is, you can always feel this way (sober), you can always have clean clothes, you can take a shower every day,” she said. “There is a better way.”
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