Tougher Penalties on Parents Who Allow Underage Drinking

As prom season nears, a number of communities throughout the U.S. are implementing laws that would toughen criminal penalties for parents who allow teenagers to drink in their homes, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported March 31.

"Increasingly, people are becoming aware that they can be subject to a criminal prosecution or a whopping lawsuit for underage drinking on the part of their children and their children's friends," said Gary Tennis, legislative liaison for the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association. "Now, it's becoming less tolerable than it used to be."

Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas have passed criminal social-host liability laws. Furthermore, prosecutors have become aggressive in their efforts to bring charges against parents who allow illicit partying.

"I don't think you're ever going to stop kids from experimenting with alcohol, but the problem is when you have adults to make it easier for the kids to do so," said Pennsylvania's Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli. "That's why you're seeing a focus on adults as the facilitators of underage drinking. Our belief is that if adults stop doing that, it will be harder for kids to get the alcohol, and we might save lives that way."

In addition to toughening laws, more than 20 states have implemented "Parents Who Host Lose the Most," an outreach program that informs parents of their potential liability.

"It's mind-boggling that any adult would think that this is an OK thing to do, but I hear it all the time: 'I'd rather have my kid drinking at home,' " said Rebecca Shaver, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving's Pennsylvania chapter. "I cringe when I hear that."

J. Jan Hoffman
Asst. Chief, Drug Demand Reduction
Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters

Director DDR Programs
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Drug Demand Reduction Assistant
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