Thursday, October 13, 2016

Underage Alcohol Use – Not a Rite of Passage

Many people dismiss underage drinking as a normal “rite of passage” in adolescents.  However, it is important to remember that alcohol is one of the most common contributors to injury, death, and criminal behavior among youth (Hingson and Kenkel, 2004). Underage alcohol use can have immediate and potentially tragic consequences as well as long-range harmful consequences, such as increased risk for chronic alcohol addiction (Grant and Dawson, 1997). Enforcement activities to limit youth access to alcohol are critical to reducing underage drinking and its often tragic consequences.

Who is a Social Host?  A social host is someone who knowingly allows an underage person to consume alcohol illegally on the host’s property. 

What is Social Host Liability?  Social Host Liability is the legal term for the criminal responsibility of a person who allows such illegal activity.

What would this ordinance/law aim to do?
·         The Social Host Ordinance /Law is aimed at those who allow persons under legal age to consume alcoholic beverages in or on property they own or control.
·         This ordinance/law would address enforcement and prosecution problems where persons knowingly permit or allow underage drinkers to have a party on their property, even when the owner didn’t supply the alcohol, and persons, including parents, who knowingly permit or allow their children’s friends to consume alcohol at their home, even where the parents didn’t supply the alcohol. 
·         The ordinance/law only applies to those who know the underage drinking is going on and do not stop it, or who gave permission for it to occur in the first place.  It would not apply to persons who did not know the underage drinking was occurring on their property.  For example, if the parents were away, and their child had a party at their home and the parents were unaware of it, those parents would not be charged.

Why is This Important?
·         We want our youth to grow up to be strong, healthy and drug-free.
·         Even when the property owner did not supply the alcohol, it is still illegal for underage youth to consume alcohol. Adults, including parents, who knowingly permit youth to consume alcohol at their home, are sending the wrong message to our youth.
·         Currently, only the person who actually physically sells or gives the alcohol to the person under legal age can be prosecuted.
·         Underage drinkers may obtain the alcohol from one person, and then go somewhere else to drink it.  Common examples are parties that take place in rural areas, or at the home of one of the underage drinkers.  Adults have told police they knew about the party and it was okay with them, “because the kids weren’t driving and I knew where they were.”  This is still condoning illegal behavior.  Currently, there is no charge that applies to these situations.

Neighboring Jefferson County passed a similar ordinance on September 20, 2013. The SAFE Coalition consulted with Jefferson County's Assistant County Attorney Pat McAvan in regard to their ordinance.  McAvan shared, “Law Enforcement and Prosecutors hope that they never have to charge a violation of this ordinance in Jefferson County.  The primary goal is to educate people and change the community’s attitude about underage drinking and substance abuse while providing a mechanism to redirect poor decisions.  This ordinance is the tool that will do both.” 

He also shared the following:
·         Since the ordinance was enacted in Jefferson County and the City of Fairfield they have each only had one investigation.   In both cases the offending party moved out of the area before they could be prosecuted. 
·         The successes are hard to measure but they are there.  The community is more aware of this issue and their responsibility if they are a social host.  In addition, there has been a slight increase in communication with law enforcement when something does happen or is planned in the County.  People would rather speak up ahead of time than face charges after the fact. 

For more information about the proposed Local Social Host Ordinance please contact the Van Buren County SAFE Coalition at 319-293-6412 or

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