Grant takes aim at underage drinkers

Posted: Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Area law enforcement agencies have teamed up with a social service provider and the Kenai Peninsula Youth Court in securing a state grant to combat underage drinking.

The Cook Inlet Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, along with a law enforcement effort spearheaded by the Kenai Police Department, recently received an $83,000 grant from the Alaska Highway Safety Planning Agency. The grant allows the formation of a partnership between CICADA, the Kenai Peninsula Youth Court and police departments to address youth injuries and deaths attributed to drinking and driving.

The full grant totals $130,000, with the remaining funding made up through in-kind services like staff time and contributions from other organizations, said CICADA Executive Director Henry Novak.

According to the proposal, the grant addresses monitoring for compliance, assessment and education. Through intervention services implemented through the partnership, adolescents who receive a "minor consuming" citation will be referred to the Kenai Peninsula Youth Court, where they will be sentenced by their peers and referred to CICADA for an alcohol or drug assessment.

Youth Court representatives will monitor the case to make sure recommendations are followed. The majority of offenders will be required to attend a class on the effects of alcohol and drugs, especially on how they relate to driving.

The grant creates two half-time counselor positions at CICADA as well as a half-time juvenile compliance monitor for the Youth Court in the Kenai office. Novak said the grant was the first of its kind to come from the AHSPA. Previous grants focused more on enforcement proposals involving police.

"We're really excited with the grant," Novak said. "This is new territory for the AHSPA and we are glad to be a part of it."

Novak said the program's goals are far-reaching in an attempt to curb underage drinking. According to 2000 Department of Motor Vehicles data listed in the grant proposal, 42 percent of youth cited for an underage violation are repeat offenders.

"We're really going to try to impact the multiple minor consuming cases," Novak said. "We're also trying to teach them obviously not to drink and drive and not to ride with someone who is drinking, because they are at a higher risk of being injured in an accident."

According to the grant proposal, the current system of follow-up for offenders begins to break down after they leave Youth Court. Staffed with volunteers, Youth Court has no paid staff member to oversee that youth follow through with court-ordered community work service and other sentencing mandates. The proposal also points to the lack of an intervention resource to address a significant number of youths struggling with drug and alcohol abuse.

According to the proposal, a fine -- usually paid by parents -- and community work service often are the only options, and that can contribute to a high rate of recidivism.

Kenai Police Sgt. Chuck Kopp was instrumental in putting together the grant, which he hopes will take a different approach from other AHSPA grants that focused more on enforcement issues involving additional staff time or increased patrols for officers. He said the collaborative effort between many agencies, including the court system, would be important.

"With these types of programs, while we still have enforcement, the focus is on alcohol education along with assessment and monitoring," Kopp said. "We hope this program has a better long-term effect. We want these kids to live for a long time so they can grow up to be productive citizens."

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