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Decriminalization of Public Drunkenness: Response of the Health Care System

Peter Finn

Thirty-four U.S. jurisdictions have fully implemented the major provisions of the Uniform Alcoholism and Intoxication Treatment Act, calling for the decriminalization of public drunkenness. Available evidence strongly suggests that the Uniform Act has only imperfectly achieved two of its principal goals: the redirection of responsibility for the public inebriate from the criminal justice system to the health care system, and the rehabilitation of public inebriates through participation in a continuum of health care services. Explanations for these failures may lie in both the concept of detoxication and in the effectiveness with which the concept has been implemented. However, additional research is needed to provide adequate data for fully assessing the impact of the act and explaining its apparent failure.