For your own safety: the path to the ‘drunk tank’
October 20, 2015
It was Sept. 12, 1:45 a.m. and first-year Harrison Naylor was too drunk to walk to his dorm alone. Naylor walked up Main Street with first-year Alex Bennett and one other student. As they walked, Naylor’s friends held him up by their shoulders.
Officer Chris Bataille of the South Burlington Police Department noticed their slow pace while on patrol, according to a UVM police report. After he had done a loop around the block, he noticed they walked about 50 feet — about the width of a basketball court — in 20 minutes.
Bataille went to check in with the students. He called for UVM police to help him out. When officers came, they found Naylor nearly falling over while trying to hug Bataille and attempting to take a selfie with the officer, according to the report.
“He thought I was hilarious,” Naylor said.
Bataille asked the officers if he could bring Naylor back to his dorm, and was told he could not. He could either take him to ACT 1, or let him go free, according to the police report. Bataille took him to ACT 1.
Bennett helped his friend into the back of the police car and they left, he said.
Naylor wasn’t arrested. Bataille detained him for his own safety, which police and UVM call “protective custody,” according to the report.
If police pick up a student who is conspicuously drunk, but not in need of medical attention, there are two places they can end up: ACT 1 or jail.
Last school year, 160 students were taken to the “drunk tank,” about 1-2 percent of all undergraduates at UVM, according to monthly reports from ACT 1 to UVM. In the past six years, over 100 students have been picked up for intoxication every year by UVM police alone, according to UVM police.
Each of the students processed through ACT 1 has their information — full name, birth date, blood alcohol concentration — sent to the University, according to a contract between UVM and ACT 1.
University officials said the system exists for the safety of students and those around them. The students who go through these channels said they wind up safe, but question whether or not the process was necessary.
For your own safety: Sobering Up
Naylor said that the day after he was taken into protective custody, he woke up at ACT 1, in a windowless room, lying on what appeared to be a hospital bed. “I didn’t know what to do or where to go,” Naylor said. “I mean I didn’t even remember getting there.”
According to ACT 1 staff, the facility has six beds: one room with three beds, two rooms with one bed and an extra cot.
The availability of a bed depends not only on how many people are filling them but also on the gender of the people in them, as each room is gender-segregated, said Uli Schygulla, program director for ACT 1/BRIDGE.
“We’ve never had both men and women in the same room, absolutely not,” ACT 1 clinician Kathleen Lowrie said.
Last school year, 10 percent of students screened by ACT 1 were denied a bed because none were available, according to ACT 1’s monthly reports.
Bob Bick, chief executive officer of the Howard Center, said that ACT 1 has enough beds to meet the demand of incapacitated students.
“As you might imagine, a significant number of [students] may find themselves in a situation in which their alcohol consumption brings them into contact with someone who might be concerned about their well being, whether that’s law enforcement or a friend or family member,” Bick said.
When an ACT 1 clinician screens somebody, they see how drunk the person is, in a way not unlike the police. This can include physical signs, like if they are able to walk and talk, as well as a vitals check and a Breathalyzer test, he said.
ACT 1 screens between 2,200 and 2,500 people per year, Bick said.
More students that show up at ACT 1 when major events take place in Burlington, Schygulla said.
“Its event-based,” Schygulla said. “If there’s a big show at Higher Ground, if it’s [the] naked bike ride, Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, beginning of school, final exams.”
When Ryan woke up in ACT 1, he said he had already missed the majority of his morning classes. He tried to leave, but ACT 1 staff told him he had to test under a .02, he said.
“I said, ‘When can I leave?’ and they said, ‘You have to blow under a .02,’ and I said, ‘I have to get to a lab. It’s really important,’” Ryan said.
He said the staff told him he could leave before he tested under a BAC of .02, but they would call the police.
“She said it like a threat,” Ryan said.
Anyone who is in ACT 1 is free to leave at any time; however, if they do not register under a BAC of .08, or .02, for those under 21, ACT 1 will call the police, Bick said.
In order to discourage students possibly still above the BAC limit from leaving, ACT 1 staff is told to encourage them to stay, said Neil Metzner, director of Crisis Services for the Howard Center.
“Staff are instructed to encourage the folks to stay, say ‘Gee, it’s kind of dark out now,’ or ‘It’s a little early,’ or ‘You’d feel a lot better if you gave it another two hours,’ but we’re not going to intervene physically with them,” Metzner said.
ACT 1 clinician Kathleen Lowrie said patients are not made aware they can leave at any time for their own safety.
“We encourage them to stay,” Lowrie said. “You know, because of course it’s safer for them to be with us than wandering around trying to get back up to school or to their apartment or whatever.”
Ryan said after waiting an extended period, he did not take a Breathalyzer test, but he was able to leave.
“Being in ACT 1 itself is awful, waking up in that place,” he said. “All the identical beds, the identical rooms, white walled. They look like hospital rooms.
For your own safety: Reporting You to U
When ACT 1 processes a UVM student, their information is sent to the Center for Health and Wellbeing. UVM receives this information as part of the contract they have with ACT 1 in the form of monthly reports, according to the contract.
The only way this will not happen is if the student pays out-of-pocket to ACT 1, in which case their name is left blank on the report, Schygulla said.
Jon Porter, director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing, said this information helps his office connect students to resources after what he called a significant medical event.
“That’s valuable to us in terms of making students aware, who go through that sort of difficult episode,” Porter said. “There are people here who can support them if they’re having any sort of difficulty.”
Last year, 35 percent of students screened by ACT 1 were not admitted and sent to jail, according to data provided by the Center for Health and Wellbeing.
In some circumstances however, it could be beneficial to go to jail, Schygulla said.
“[It’s] not about punishment, but I look at everything as there’s a plus side and a minus side,” she said. “It could be a life altering positive experience to have such a negative experience.”
If a student is not admitted to ACT 1, whoever assessed the student’s level of incapacitation selects a reason, numbered one through nine, on their admittance form known as an “incap form,” Schygulla said.
These reasons range from violence concerns, medical attention being needed and a lack of available beds, according to ACT 1’s screening form.
This information is in the reports to UVM. The only person who sees the information in the reports is the Center for Health and Wellbeing’s business support analyst, Patricia Frazer, Porter said in an Oct. 19 email.
The reports are sent with each reason sent as a number, one through nine. However, Frazer is the only person at the Center who knows what these numbers mean is, he said in the email.
“The only time the codes are used by her are when students call and ask why they were not kept at ACT 1,” Porter said in the email.
The University pays ACT 1 $10,000 every semester in exchange for their services for students. Instead of paying ACT 1 directly, UVM bills students for these costs, according to their 2015-2016 contract.
There is not much communication between ACT 1 and UVM, Metzner said.
“We’ve been asked only to provide the data we provide,” Metzner said. “Besides that we don’t get on the phone and talk to anyone. The face-to-face communication is minimal.”
The monthly reports act as verification that ACT 1 is serving UVM’s students, said Annie Stevens, the vice provost for student affairs at UVM.
“The Center for Health and Wellbeing uses this information to provide students with resources intended to assist the student in ensuring that future encounters with ACT 1 do not occur and to assist with medical follow up as necessary,” Stevens said in an Oct. 12 email.
Porter said the information allows his office to help individual students find resources that may help them with issues of alcohol abuse.
He said his office compiled a list of times when rates of high risk drinking and ACT 1 transports, go up, and they use that information to contact parents ahead of time.
“This isn’t about why you do a wrong, good or bad. It’s about helping folks to make decisions that help them succeed,” Porter said.
Ryan said he acknowledges that the “drunk tank” is there to keep students safe, but the whole process made him feel “more like a criminal than anything else.”
“Let’s say you break a leg and get a cast for six months. That’s kind of like ACT 1 felt like,” he said. “You just messed up, and it’s just this huge nuisance on your entire life.”
What would Naylor have done differently?
“I just wouldn’t have drank so much,” he said. “It would’ve been smarter if we had just taken an Uber or a taxi home.”