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Drunk Tanks Face Money Woes, Bad PR

Published: December 15, 2006 (Issue # 1230)


MOSCOW — Two police officers escorted Boris into the station at about 6 p.m. His speech was slurred. He had trouble recalling his last name. When the cops forcibly removed his coat and sweater, the stench of booze and sweat was overpowering.

“Why did you bring me here?” Boris screamed after the nurse managed to coax his age, 53, out of him.

When the officers told him he’d have to take off all his clothes, Boris less-than-politely declined.

One double-arm lock later, three officers had Boris hoisted in the air, immobilized. They removed his boots, stripped him down to his tattered boxer shorts, and hustled him off to a ward where two men who had urinated on themselves hours before were passed out on their cots.

Boris is among the hundreds of thousands of Russians scooped up off the street by police each year and forced to dry out at the infamous, century-old institution known as the vytrezvitel, or sobering-up station.

With winter approaching, sobering-up stations can be lifesavers for people who drink themselves unconscious in freezing temperatures.

But now the sobering-up station, or drunk tank, is facing an uncertain future, plagued with financial woes, legal questions and a public image tainted by times past.

Since the Soviet collapse, the number of sobering-up stations has plummeted. There are now 586 stations in the country, down from 1,249 in 1990, said Yulia Ivanova, spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry’s Public Order Department, which oversees the stations.

In Moscow alone, several sobering-up stations have been closed in recent years. There are 12 facilities in the city — 11 for men and one for women.

Police Lieutenant Oleg Sergeyev of Moscow’s No. 3 Sobering-Up Station, in the Northern Administrative District, voiced serious concerns about the months ahead.

“Winter is especially dangerous,” Sergeyev said. “I think our patrol guys have saved the lives of a lot of the people they’ve found. We get thank-you notes from people thanking us for saving their lives.”

The No. 1 problem facing stations is money. The fees charged to drunks for sobering up vary widely — 100 rubles in Moscow, 50 rubles in Vladimir, 1,900 rubles in Yakutsk — and are rarely enough to cover overheads.

Another hurdle the drunk tanks must contend with is the courts. With the forced disrobing and prison-like atmosphere, many have questioned whether Russia, like the Soviet Union before it, has the right to force people to get sober.

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Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Club’s weekly meeting tonight at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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