Austin Sobering Center Serves as an Alternative to Jail

Austin Sobering Center Serves as an Alternative to Jail

Austin Sobering Center

When someone in Austin is arrested for intoxication, they have typically been taken to jail. In 2018, a new center was established to help people sober up in a safe environment rather than having to spend the night in jail. Today, the Austin Sobering Center serves as an alternative to jail, offering people the hope and help they need.

A Concern in Austin

In 2018, about 52 people were arrested each week for public intoxication. COVID restrictions have reduced that number somewhat, but people are still arrested in Austin for drinking too much and causing a disturbance. Each one of those arrests costs the city money and the police time, as the officers spend one to three hours on each public intoxication arrest. The person being arrested usually goes to jail or to the emergency room, if the intoxication has caused medical issues.

Alternative Services

The Sobering Center provides an alternative to jail or the emergency room. Now, under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Articles, a police officer may release the individual, if they verbally consent, to voluntary admission to the Sobering Center where they can become sober under supervision. When admitted to the Sobering Center, the individual does not receive a public intoxication citation that would normally go on their public record, a medical transportation bill, or a bill for the services provided by the Sobering Center.

The Sobering Center is not a treatment center, but rather makes referrals for the individual to get help for their alcohol use. Officially, the Sobering Center is incorporated to aid and to act on behalf of the city of Austin and the county of Travis to staff, manage, and operate a sobriety center for the safe short-term treatment and management of individuals who are under the influence of alcohol, and to provide those individuals with information on and referrals to community-based outpatient services.


Since its launch in 2018, the Sobering Center has diverted over 4,000 publicly intoxicated individuals from being taken to jail and they have saved local taxpayers over $500,000 in booking fees. Approximately 60% of the jail occupants in Travis County meet the criteria for substance abuse or dependence. The Sobering Center offers individuals who would otherwise be taken to jail the opportunity to get help by way of a referral to a facility that will help address the individual’s underlying behaviors that may stem from their substance use disorder.

The impact of the Sobering Center can be seen in terms of reduced costs and improved access to treatment options for those individuals. When a police officer arranges transportation to the Sobering Center, it takes less time and expense than arresting the person. It also frees up the officer to attend to more serious calls. Most police officers would prefer that the individual be referred for treatment rather than being punished with a jail sentence. Jail bookings for new public intoxication misdemeanors have decreased by approximately 45% since the Sobering Center opened.

COVID-19 Challenges

When restrictions were put in place in response to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sobering Center had to close for over a month. It reopened in mid-May and shortly after, hired a new executive director, Laura Sovine. Although the center is now seeing fewer people, its impact is still being felt in Austin. Sovine notes that August has been the center’s busiest month since the pandemic began.

Despite a drop in people being admitted to the center, because of the COVID restrictions, Sovine has spotted a trend. “During COVID, we’ve really seen the acuity of the patients go up, and what that means is the cases are more severe even though we’re seeing fewer people,” she stated.

Sovine also notes that the Sobering Center is building partnerships with local groups so they can shift their focus a bit, to long-term care. She says that “We’ve actually changed our business model to allow for a little bit more spending time with our clients and trying to find access to long-term care rather than just sobering them up and turning them back out.” The Sobering Center has partnered with community organizations such as the Downtown Austin Alliance, Downtown Austin Community Court, and Integral Care, to provide an alternative to jail for those individuals with a substance use issue.


If you need resources to help with your addiction to drugs or alcohol, you will find them at Sober Austin. We provide the information on treatment and recovery that will help you overcome your addiction. We also understand that life can be even more challenging during the coronavirus pandemic and urge you to review the resources on our site so you can get the help you need now. You can also feel free to contact us directly by calling (512) 522-7135 or emailing