Underage drinking persists despite monetary penalties

By Courtney Klemm

Like many other students, Travis Algren, sophomore in ACES, spent some time before the start of the fall semester drinking.

Algren was at a party at his fraternity’s senior house when he said he noticed the crowd was growing and getting out of hand.

“People were spilling into the streets,” he said. “I saw a couple of cops come running and asking people for IDs.”

Algren said he began walking toward the back of the house and set down his beer when a Champaign police officer saw him and yelled at him to come over to her. After asking for his ID and sniffing his cup, the officer ticketed him $280, the fine for underage drinking in Champaign.

But the ticket didn’t stop Algren.

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    “As soon as I saw the cop car leave, I started drinking again,” he said. “I knew they were done with their business for the night and I wanted to get drunk.”

    Cases like Algren’s lead some to question the effectiveness of underage drinking tickets.

    According to a November 2002 article in the Journal of American College Health, 77.4 percent of underage college students drank alcohol in 2001 and 40 percent engaged in binge drinking.

    Champaign Police Sergeant Scott Freidlein said he estimates between 550 to 600 underage drinking tickets have been issued since the beginning of the calendar year.

    Champaign has a pay-by-mail system instead of a trial and conviction process. In the pay-by-mail system, a paid ticket serves as a settlement. In Urbana, a comparable ticket costs $135.

    “Any licensed establishment is subjected to bar checks based on random selection,” Friedlein said. “Then, based on performance during those checks, additional inspections may be made.”

    Katina Castro-Massey, junior in applied life studies, works as a bartender at Gully’s tavern in Champaign. She said she feels underage drinking is prevalent at the University.

    “I’ve gotten used to it because it is so common,” she said.

    Most bars distinguish those over 21 years old with wristbands or stamps, but customers will often buy drinks for their underage friends or bartenders won’t bother checking IDs.

    Castro-Massey said the disregard for underage consumption rules is even worse at fraternity and apartment parties.

    “I’ve never heard of any real regulations at house parties, except for the signs saying those under 21 aren’t allowed to drink. But no one takes those seriously,” she said. “At frat parties, pretty much anyone can get in. The bars are stricter because you actually have to show an ID.”

    Regulations in both bars and at house parties are so lax that many times getting caught by the police is based purely on chance. Because of this, many students feel that tickets are not effective in curbing underage drinking.

    “Picking a couple people out of a crowd doesn’t really target everyone and people still come to the bars and drink even after they get ticketed,” Castro-Massey said. “It’s just an expensive slap on the wrist.”

    Algren agreed.

    “I knew (getting my ticket) was all chance and probably won’t happen again,” he said. “I don’t think anyone who’s a regular drinker would really drink less often. Getting a ticket once isn’t going to make people have less of a social life.”

    But there might not be many alternatives to current methods used to stop underage drinking.

    “There are many programs out there, but you have to have a certain amount of leverage,” Freidlein said. He said he felt no matter what program was chosen to control underage drinking, the driving power of the program was the enforcement of the rules.

    Algren, however, said he felt efforts to end underage drinking were futile.

    “I think underage drinking will happen regardless,” he said. “In fact, having less money has now forced me to buy cheaper, stronger drinks so I get drunk faster.”