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Rather than being arrested, finger-printed and sent to court, students found to be drunk in public may soon find an alternative solution in the Isla Vista Sobering Center.
The AssociatedStudentsLegalResourceCenter has spent over a year devising a plan to implement a sobering center in Isla Vista. The center would provide a space for any intoxicated person to be held until they are sober, rather than being booked and escorted to jail, thereby allowing officers to return to patrol.
Robin Unander, an attorney at the LegalResourceCenter who provides free legal advice for students, said the idea of a sobering center came from seeing the detrimental effects of unnecessary arrests on students.
“Yes, [students are] arrested, but after that the district decides to not prosecute, and there are certain benefits that someone is supposed to receive as far as their criminal history record, but … the students were not receiving those benefits,” Unander said. “These students who weren’t supposed to have any arrests show up on their background checks at all, are. They’re losing opportunities.”
According to Unander, a sobering center would keep students safe while also providing a less extreme consequence for their intoxication.
“While there is a need to protect the students, to remove them from the streets when they are too intoxicated for their own good, I don’t think it needs to be as strong as they go and get arrested,” Unander said. “Let’s just provide a safe space with some follow-up education.”
Kyley Scarlet, Associated Students Off-campus senator and liaison to the LegalResourceCenter, added that a sobering center would allow police officers to return to the streets quickly and efficiently, keeping Isla Vista safer.
“The intoxicated person is safely detained until they are sober, the officer is able to quickly deposit the person and immediately return to patrol without performing time-consuming paperwork and transportation of the person to jail,” Scarlet said. “The officers prefer this option rather than booking intoxicated people into jail.”
Detained students would not be exempt of consequences, but would be required to receive alcohol-related education and pay a fine. This fine would be less than the cost of being arrested, but Scarlet said it would provide an incentive to drink responsibly.
“We were afraid of not having any incentive, which is why we have decided to implement a fine and the requirement of taking an alcohol education course,” Scarlet said. “The fines and course combined will cost less than getting arrested and going to court, however, we have been talking about making it a one time ‘pass’ for students.”
Tiffany Pan, chair of the Legal Resource Committee, said that the CountySheriff’s Office supported the idea despite some initial dissent.
“In the beginning [the I.V. Foot Patrol] really were not for the idea of the sobering center,” Pan said. “But the [sheriff’s office] — they aren’t happy about it but they would be supportive of it … I think the only reason the sheriff is not excited about it is that they kind of don’t want to pay for it.”
The LRC has collaborated with the SB County Sherriff’s Office and the university to map out the details of the center, but still needs to locate a source of funding to realize their goal. At this point, money is the only thing holding the project back, according to Unander.
“We need money — funding — to be able to get it started,” Unander said. “It’s kind of been placed back on either community, or university, or grants if we can find them to get the funding to start this.”
Pan added that the committee would like to gauge student opinion of the idea, in order to understand if a lock-in fee would make sense.
“Our main job right now is to get the student body aware of the sobering center, and to see where the student interest is,” Pan said. “We might have to end up implementing a lock-in fee, or see if students would be willing to pay for it. We really want them to know that this helps them, because if they get arrested, that’s going to affect their future.”