Communities Tackle Underage Drinking
By Corrrections Connection News Network, CCNN

While much attention has been paid in recent years to preventing drug use among teens and youth, statistics show that underage drinking is an equal problem for communities nationwide. Some jurisdictions have stepped up to the plate with innovative programs to help youth understand the dangers of underage drinking and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has played a major part in many of these efforts by providing support and technical assistance.

“Just as our increased attention to delinquency has begun to have a major impact on juvenile crime. This emphasis [on underage drinking] is having a pay-off too. I think kids still use alcohol but they are much more conscious of the damage they can do to themselves,” said John Wilson, Acting Administrator for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The statistics tell the story. According to recent research:
*Alcohol is number one drug of choice underage drinkers
*Underage drinking cost 58 billion annually, and
*Young people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely
to have alcohol dependency.

Johnnetta Davis, coordinator for the Underage Drinking Program for the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, said the most successful programs have several things in common. “They have done several things.  One thing that is significant with all of these communities is they have concerned citizens as well as law enforcement, young people and policy makers involved,” she said.

The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation has been able to provide assistance to several communities with plans for reducing access to alcohol and addressing underage drinking through an OJJDP grant. In addition, Davis coordinated the satellite videoconference on combating underage drinking that aired on September 22.

Video Conference Enhances Discussion of Underage Drinking

The videoconference raised awareness of underage drinking laws and also provided information about models to reducing the access of alcohol to underage youth. The broadcast also provided viewers with information about federal funding opportunities for assistance.

“I think that this is very important because public awareness is really a key to successfully addressing underage drinking,” said Wilson,  a panelist for the videoconference.

In addition to a general discussion of the law, three communities and their underage drinking programs were highlighted. Those communities, Omaha, Nebraska, Las Vegas, Nevada and San Juan, Puerto Rico are all at different stages of addressing the underage drinking problems in their communities.

Communities Sharing Experiences

“We're were showing a community that is really advanced to one that is less advanced toward the objectives. We’re showing that no matter what stage you are at, you can expand,” said Davis.

In Omaha, community leaders started a program called Project Extra Mile in which a coalition of members form the community, based on a needs assessment, instituted compliance checks of retail liquor establishments and local policy changes. Members of the community from church leaders to law enforcement to school officials were involved in the effort, which provided a broad basis of support for the changes. In three years the percentage of establishments in non-compliance with local laws and polices has decreased from 41 percent to 19 percent.

In Las Vegas, officials were faced with a dual desire to restrict alcohol access to underage drinkers while supporting the gambling industry. Officials created a program called Stand Tall that instituted compliance checks of retail liquor outlets to determine compliance with local laws.  Since the program began, other nearby community leaders have created add-on components such as a rewards system for complying establishments and local youth have become involved as well. Since the program began compliance rates have increased from 48 percent to 69 percent and a network of youth have taken on the task or normalizing non-drinking decisions among their peers.

Before interventions were established in San Juan, the community suffered from heavy volumes of public drinking, litter problems due to alcohol consumption and high incidences of crime. The community joined together to establish a new code of order in Old San Juan that established new policies regarding drinking such as prohibiting drinking in vehicles and public drinking. Policies were also established to prohibit drinking within a required distance form schools, churches and other facilities and compliance checks of alcohol establishments were begun. Since the changes were made there has been a significant decline in criminal activity in the community.

Funding Assistance

The OJJDP is in its fourth year of funding to provide assistance in this area of prevention. Wilson said Congress was deliberate in its choice to place the funding under a Department of Justice program such as OJJDP.

“[Congress] wanted to highlight that it is a law enforcement problems and might be taken more seriously That also includes the public and parents who may not understand this is an issue that can impact their children's and their family's lives,” said Wilson.

Communities with viable plans for addressing underage drinking can apply for federal grants to help establish a program and make changes related to the problems in their community.

There is also a training and technical assistance program through the Pacific Institute that makes information available and provides training to law enforcement and others about how to implement effective programming.

“We’re trying to make sure sellers and retail staff are training staff and asking for age identification. The other side is educating the kids and their parents and trying to impact community norms,” Wilson said.

To view the archived broadcast visit

For more information about technical assistance through PIRE visit the website at or the OJJDP website at
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339