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Alexandria Grapples With Public Drunkenness

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While substance-abuse treatment options have been reduced because of budget cuts in Alexandria, treatment services have expanded at the jail.
Michael Pope
While substance-abuse treatment options have been reduced because of budget cuts in Alexandria, treatment services have expanded at the jail.

By Michael Pope

As budget cuts have reduced substance-abuse treatment options, and wait-lists for services have increased, city leaders in Alexandria have responded by expanding treatment services at the jail.

Most of the arrests have come in a Latino neighborhood near the border with Arlington, and the jail-treatment approach doesn't sit well with community organizer Jon Liss, of Tenants and Workers United.

"It's a policing solution to poverty, and people with substance abuse issues," says Liss. "The last I heard alcohol and alcoholism is a disease, not a crime. Yet we are moving people toward the jail."

In the past few months, the jail has added treatment services for Spanish speakers and has increased its capacity from 35 to 57 spaces. Tony Briggs, who oversees the mental-health services at the jail, admits it's not perfect. But he's quick to add that it serves a valuable function.

"Yea, it's reactive," says Briggs. "But If they can't come here and something that's going to change their life, something that's going to give them more coping skills or another option, then we're just sending them back out there."

Without funding for alternative treatment options, the city manager says Alexandria will have to make do with what the jail can provide.

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