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Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility
issue driver licenses and state identification cards that can be electronically scanned;
allow retailers to confiscate apparently false identification for law enforcement inspection; and
implement administrative penalties (e.g., immediate confiscation of a driver’s license and issuance of a citation resulting in a substantial fine) for attempted use of false identification by minors for alcohol purchases.
The overriding purpose of prescribing and enforcing penalties against underage youth for possession of or attempted purchase of alcohol, and using a false ID for this purpose, is to serve as a deterrent. The deterrent effect of the penalties is affected by their severity, the probability of their imposition, and the swiftness with which they are imposed (e.g., Ross, 1982). Severe, criminal penalties for minors in possession of alcohol or attempting to purchase alcohol are seldom enforced and thus generate, at best, only a modest deterrent effect (Hafemeister and Jackson, in press), and the limited deterrent effects most likely affects the location of drinking (e.g., drinking in public places, which is more likely to be detected) than its occurrence. Arrest of minors appears to be rare for these offenses (Wagenaar and Wolfson, 1994), in part because of the burden of prosecuting them as criminal violations and the reluctance of law enforcement officials and courts to enforce criminal penalties in such cases (Little and Bishop, 1998; Wolfson et al., 1995). This reluctance stems from a widespread belief that giving a young person a criminal record for drinking or possessing alcohol is excessive and unfair. Moreover, because criminal proceedings are often lengthy and removed in time from the infraction, the punishment is seldom swift or certain (Hafemeister and Jackson, in press).
In the committee’s view, a less severe sanction would be more likely to be enforced and would generate a greater deterrent than an under-enforced criminal penalty. Possession, consumption, and attempted purchase of alcohol by minors, and use of false IDs for this purpose, should be treated as noncriminal infractions punishable by fines, community service, and similar sanctions, and should not lead to a criminal record that may ruin the life chances of a young person. Moreover, alcohol infractions should be handled administratively through citations issued at the time of apprehension, without requiring court appearances. The size of the fines and length of community service should be sufficiently substantial to register social disapproval and to generate a meaningful deterrent effect. Models for designing sanctions for such noncriminal transgressions are available, including youth-