After years of dragging anchor not only on providing more jail space but also on catching up to other counties in modernizing jail operations to make them more efficient and more humane, the Orange County Board of Supervisors changed course last Wednesday and sailed ahead on a list of innovations.
One of the most significant, finally, was the board's order to its staff to work out details for establishing a sobering-up station, or detoxification center, for public drunks. The action, which was pushed by Supervisor Harriett Wieder, was long overdue.
San Diego and Los Angeles have centers where drunks are treated as medical problems, not criminals, at daily costs far lower than what Orange County has been spending to lock drunks in jail. Orange County has no such centers, and, as the last county Grand Jury noted, spends "zero dollars out of (its) general fund" on alcohol-recovery programs. It is, the jury added, "in the 14th Century" compared to surrounding counties. That may be a rather harsh assessment. We would have put it in the 17th Century at least.
One factor that put added pressure on the board to finally act to provide some kind of jail diversion program for public drunks was the decision by Sheriff-Coroner Brad Gates, a strong supporter of the sobering-up stations, to stop booking these drunks in the overcrowded County Jail. Gates acted in response to a federal court order to reduce the number of prisoners jammed into existing jail space.