Friday, February 20, 2009

Situational Reactions (ethics)

One of the convenient things about having the drunk tank located half a flight of stairs away from the shelter is that when clients are intoxicated and behaving badly it’s very easy to have police or downtown watch who are dropping someone else of put them in there.  For the most part they’re fine to do it and don’t ask a lot of questions, they simply trust us that they’re being disruptive and need some time to sober up.  The thing is, that we of course do not have all clients who are not following the rules thrown in the drunk tank, and I was thinking about how the situation really determines our course of action rather than a set policy.  Some people might even call this situational ethics...

The last person I had put in the drunk tank was not so much being loud as just unable to settle down.  They were up and down (and all around) and despite repeated warnings, had not laid down to go to sleep.  This person was just stupid drunk, not particularly violent or insulting, but I have to admit, they were just plain annoying.  Factors which led me to ask the police to put them in there:  It was a quiet night so the drunk tank was not anywhere near full, it was really cold out so I didn’t want to throw them out in the snow, they were keeping other people from sleeping, I thought it would be really good for them to have a chance to become fully sober before using again (see and that, is where my bias comes in, what I think).  Another shift manager in my same situation might have simply thrown the person out, or, being more patient then me might have just allowed them to continue and given them some more chances until they sobered up enough to calm down.  

So, what’s the right answer?  When does having the drunk tank give us inappropriate power?  As usual, I’m not sure there is an answer.  I truly believe it all comes down to the situation.  Other people might disagree with me, looking instead for a black and white answer, but I really don’t think there is a check list of things that mean someone gets kicked out, locked up, or allowed to sleep.  That’s where experience comes in, and I often don’t feel like I have enough of it to be left in charge.  

1 comment:

David G. Markham said...

I think you did the right thing and admire your good judgment.

I think the major consideration might be the client's safety. To disciplinarily discharge them, intoxicated, to the snow, strikes me as irresponsibile since the person's judgement is impaired and it is questionable whether they are in any condition to take care of themselves and not be a nuisance.

I don't see the triage to the drunk tank as punishment but rather as a safe place with adequate supervision until the person is sober.

I love your blog and the great questions you ask of yourself and your readers.

All the best,

David Markham