Thursday, September 25, 2008

Drunk Tank Ethics

Mr. nice guy and the enforcer got in an argument a few nights ago. It's a common discussion, but things got pretty heated with both of them saying that management was on their "side". I've never heard mr. nice guy be so outspoken about something, but I was very glad he was. Here is the basic scenario.

When someone comes into the drunk tank we hold them between 4 and 24 hours, it's at our discretion of when they are safe for release into the community again. Between midnight and six in the morning, clients have to sign an extra form saying they are aware of the risk of leaving in the middle of the night in a bad part of town, and that they want to go anyway. Here's where things get complicated. What happens when someone doesn't want to go? What if we know that they have absolutely no place to go, the shelter's full, and the weather is horrible. What if IPDA is full, and we have police outside waiting. What do we do with these people?

This particular night, the shelter was full, but the drunk tank wasn't. There were people who'd been there quite a while, but they were people who had no place to go, and it was POURING rain. The enforcer tried to make mr. nice guy kick them out, and he wouldn't. He said, "they don't want to go, they have no place to go". The enforcer said, they've been here 8 hours, they're sober, they get a phone call, and the buses are still running. Mr. nice guy said, these people have no money, no one to phone, no where to go. The enforcer said, that's their problem. What happens if we fill up and have a back log.

See, the drunk tank is funded by the city, not our organization. So, us shelter sober people, just cause we know they have no place to go is kind of, well, cheating, especially if the police have someone possibly dangerous or extremely disruptive that they need to bring in. The enforcer is worried that we will get a back log of 5 or more cars, and that the police supervisor will be calling and complaining, and since he's in charge, the buck stops with him. He says he's discussed this with management.

Mr. nice guy says that we cannot release people who don't want to go, and then get them to sign a form that says they do. It's unethical. And, how do we release people to, well, nothing. The thing is, he's also working with situational ethics here, because if we were full, he would do the releases. But because we weren't, he was arguing his point. However, we can also argue, that if we were full in the drunk tank we would try to squish people into the shelter wherever we could find room. The enforcer is very black and white. He doesn't do situational ethics, at all, it's the principle of the situation. Mr nice guy has plenty of shades of grey and is able to adapt his practice to the situation, but should he?

I have to admit, I'm strongly on mr. nice guy's side, but of course, I'm biased in that I'm having issues with the enforcer. However, I've always been of the same position as mr. nice guy. It's an interesting issue, one that I hope management will continue to discuss.


Reas Kroicowl said...

Sounds like simple "life view" differences to me. The enforcer always follows the rules. Rules are rules. Mr. Nice Guy is willing to bend them on occasion. Neither is the "wrong" life view, but they can certainly clash at times.

I, like you, tend to see rules as pliable. Imagine that.

cb said...

I am also in agreement with Reas. I find it hard to concede to rules at times and turn to an emotional tug. I know it isn't the more efficient way to practise.. but.. there's a reason I went into this profession and it didn't just disappear when a rule book was placed in front of me.

LA Lady said...

isn't it usually the social worker's job to "find a way"? I hate to sound cynical (imagine, a cynical social worker!) but people expect sw's to perform miracles all the time when it suits their purpose. i think if mr. nice guy is willing to be nice this time, then thank goodness someone wants to be nice, period!!