Kentucky spends millions of dollars each year to arrest, detain, adjudicate and punish people for being intoxicated in public.
When a public intoxicant fails to pay the fine or fails to appear in court we then issue a warrant to rearrest, detain and re-adjudicate.
Kentucky has a long history of using the criminal justice system to remedy substance abuse. It has proven ineffective and costly to taxpayers. If our goal is to temporarily remove from the community intoxicated persons who pose a temporary risk to themselves or others, then we need to examine an alternative.
Let us permit law enforcement to temporarily detain an impaired person in a detention center for up to eight hours.
Then they would be released in the community without adjudication or diverted into a social services program.
A person under the influence of an intoxicant, who has not committed another offense and has demonstrated a reasonable demeanor, should not be charged criminally. If that person demonstrates aggressive behavior or violates detention rules, they could then be charged criminally. This option would not be used in DUI-type violations.
A Kentucky "Safe Keeper" statute would eliminate hundreds of "nonpayment of fine" and "failure to appear" warrants issued each day.
These offenses frequently result in extended jail time at a huge cost to taxpayers. A nonpayment of a $50 fine results in a warrant, a pick up, a court appearance and possibly a 10 day jail sentence, costing the taxpayers in excess of $1,000 per rearrest.
Paying $1,000 to recover $50 is not a wise return on investment.
A law enforcement officer is expected to intervene in a situation that poses a threat to a citizen or others. An intoxicated person frequently creates that threat. Doing nothing is often not acceptable. Arrest may mitigate a temporary risk but imposes a huge fiscal burden on taxpayers and our court system. If risk abatement is our goal, then we must find a more fiscally prudent and humane method.
This is a rare opportunity for a legislative proposal that could gain support from the right, left and center, while saving millions of dollars in the process.
Let us ask our legislators to support a safe-keeper statute. It is smart, compassionate and fiscally responsible.
Ray Sabbatine is a former director of the Fayette County Detention Center.