For Immediate Release: June 18, 2007
Media Contact: Communication Office
BURLINGTON – Vermont’s second largest city is changing its approach to how it handles publicly intoxicated people. Anyone encountered by local police who is severely drunk and incapacitated can be placed into protective custody and taken to jail at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility until sober enough to leave.
Beginning on July 1, Rutland will offer an improved screening system and an elective option for people to become sober at Grace House, a 14-bed home with a kitchen, living room and remodeled nursing station.
“When people have health challenges, a holding cell in a jail is not the best place for them,” said Barbara Cimaglio, deputy commissioner for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs for the Vermont Department of Health
The Alcohol Services Act, enacted in 1978, led to the creation of a public inebriate program mandated by the State of Vermont that decriminalized public intoxication and addressed the problem as a public health issue. Despite the intent of the law, more people went to jail for public intoxication after it was decriminalized than before.
“The intent of the 1978 law was not to punish someone who was publicly intoxicated, but instead to provide them with access to treatment and recovery services,” Cimaglio said. “Rutland came together as a community to address this problem as a public health issue - and they supported a solution that better enables the state to provide appropriate care.”
The available beds at Grace House could alleviate a strain on the corrections system in Rutland as much as 20 percent. A total of 506 publicly inebriated people were detained at Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland last year (an average of 30 to 50 each month). According to Rutland Regional Partnership for Family Services, 81 percent of those visits were by people who had never been detained at the jail before, and may have voluntarily selected treatment and recovery options.
“The beds available through Grace House will mean better and more appropriate services for the community,” said Dick Powell, director of Addiction & Violence Services for the Vermont Department of Corrections. “It gives people an additional option that might save their lives, and it will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Previously treatment and recovery services were offered to public inebriates by Evergreen Substance Abuse Services, but services were only available five days a week. Evergreen agreed to work cooperatively with Grace House and will continue to serve as an outpatient referral option.
“There are significant advantages to having someone wake up in a treatment center rather than a jail,” said Phillip Fernandez, assistant superintendent of Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility. “It is a matter of striking while iron is hot. Before if someone needed treatment, they would have to make an appointment on State Street downtown, and then make it to that appointment at a later date. Chances are you are going to lose them - they may go back to drinking before a treatment option is underway. They may feel that they have done their time in jail and that was enough. It is not as therapeutic as having someone wake up at Grace House, because you catch them at crucial point of their day and there is someone there who is trained to help.”
Grace House, according to director Mary Ellen O’Brien, chief executive officer of Recovery House programs, is a warm, homey setting that will offer people several levels of treatment and recovery options. Public inebriates and people in need of a detox program will be treated at Grace House. Serenity House in Wallingford will provide residential treatment services, and McGee House in Rutland will provide halfway house services.
“The assessment of people will be more detailed and that will determine what type of services they need,” O’Brien said. “This has been such a cooperative process by everyone serving the Rutland Community and we all agree this will better serve people in our community who may need help.”