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Responsibility.org Launches Effective Judicial Interventions for Underage Drinking Offenders

Roberto, age 15, was at his junior prom waiting for some friends to pick him up to go to an after party. He was spotted stumbling around the school parking lot and appeared to be drinking from an open container. A passerby spotted him and called the police. He could be charged with underage consumption of alcohol, underage possession of alcohol on public school property, and being drunk in public, but this is his first offense.

While underage drinking rates have declined significantly over the years, it still remains a problem worthy of attention as there are many youth similar to Roberto. These instances of underage alcohol consumption can be written off as mere mistakes that will not be repeated, somewhat of a rite of passage. But, this behavior could also be interpreted as a cry for help, the manifestation of a much deeper problem, and the first hint of a possible lifelong relationship with the criminal justice system.

Roberto’s story is actually a case study that presents judges with several options. The case could be handled informally. However, the best choice would be to gather additional information. If a screening and in-depth assessment were conducted, it would reveal that Roberto drinks on nearly a daily basis and has an unstable home life. These, among other risk factors, make it more likely that he will have further involvement in criminal activity and become alcohol dependent. In the absence of appropriate intervention, Roberto will fail to address his problems.

For the past 15 years, we have developed free resources for criminal justice practitioners, including law enforcement, prosecutors, probation/parole officers, and judges. The newest addition to this slate of offerings is a cutting-edge online course for any judge who might adjudicate the aforementioned underage drinking case. Effective Judicial Interventions for Underage Drinking Offenders was developed by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and Responsibility.org in consultation with a national panel of experts (see below). The course is designed to educate judges about underage drinking so they can make informed decisions in the courtroom.

Housed on the NCSC website, the course consists of four online modules and accompanying resources, including case studies, model case plans, and videos. The learning objectives include :

  • Increase understanding of the importance of assessment and treatment of juvenile offenders
  • Identify appropriate community resources for referrals
  • Develop a treatment plan that is tailored to individual risks and needs
  • Understand the importance of the judiciary taking a leadership role in addressing the issue of underage drinking prevention and intervention within the criminal justice system

Ultimately, the goal of this free course is to further understanding and awareness of the importance of addressing underage alcohol consumption before it becomes a lifelong issue or leads to further contact with the criminal justice system. Completion of Effective Judicial Interventions for Underage Drinking Offenders will prepare judges and other criminal justice practitioners to become leaders in this regard.

Judges do more than simply sentence those who break the law. The judiciary can prevent future interactions with the criminal justice system by asking the right questions, identifying risk factors, and tailoring case dispositions to address an individual juvenile’s issues and treatment needs. This early intervention can address problems during teen years before they develop into lifelong afflictions and lengthy criminal records.

We would like to recognize the contribution of the members of the advisory panel and thank them for their participation and ongoing commitment to the issue of underage drinking. Without them, the development of this course would not have been possible.

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