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Alcohol and the Criminal Justice System - Task Force Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
57 pages
This report has been prepared by the Pennsylvania Crime Commission to present the impact of the use of alcohol on Pennsylvania's criminal justice system.
The problems with alcohol lie in the abuses associated with consuming alcohol by youngsters who do not know how to control their usage or their behavior and by adults who have become addicted. Because public drunkards are visible and bothersome, police remove them from public areas. But once they enter the criminal justice process, the drunkards' cases descend to the lowest priority, since the criminal justice system is concerned with more serious criminal matters. Usually the back door of the criminal justice system, through which the public drunkard exits, leads to the front door of another taproom, and the cycle continues. The police, judges, and correctional personnel are overburdened by the large volume of drunkenness cases and they know that the process is not solving the problem. Many tax dollars are spent in this ineffective holding operation, with the offenders receiving little more than a temporary sobering up. Handling public drunkards through criminal processes amounts to the misguided criminalizing of a social problem. The drunkard is a patient, not a criminal. If he commits a crime against a person or property, the drunkard deserves criminal handling under applicable laws, but the solution to drunkenness requires effective treatment. Creating effective and flexible treatment plans requires the coordinated effort of law makers, law enforcement agencies, health and welfare departments, hospitals, family and social-service agencies, and others. Flexibility is necessary if the individual causes of each drinking problem are to be reached. Coordination is needed to effectively use all resources. But most important is strong leadership in the planning and activation of a noncriminal approach emphasizing treatment that will replace the costly, ineffective, inhumane, and frustrating processes now used. A figure illustrates the estimated amount of 80 proof liquor needed to reach approximate levels of alcohol in the blood, and 79 references are provided. (Author abstract modified)