Illinois Courts Recognize Value in Alcohol Awareness Classes

by: Mike Miller

The judicial systems in three Illinois counties (Warren, Henderson and Knox) are working together to establish alcohol classes for underage drivers who get a DUI. Citing the ingrained belied in adolescents that they are invincible, judges and prosecutors are trying to nip both minor in possession (MIP) and driving under the influence (DUI) offenses before they happen.

Teens Could Use Hard Dose of Reality

Don’t get me wrong – the life of a teenager can be very difficult. They face realities dealing with bullying and peer pressure every day.  The dose of reality I am speaking of are the consequences of their actions.

The county courts have not decided yet whether the classes would be an additional punishment or alternative sentence, but their aim is to force adolescents to come to terms with the results of their actions. Many teens aren't punished when the receive DUIs because their parents pay the fine.

"We are trying to bring a cold, hard dose of reality," Monmouth District Attorney Steven Glasgow said. "It will hurt more than a fine.They are going to see some things they wish they hadn't but that's exactly what will stick with them."

The Grim Reaper

Knox County Coroner Mark Thomas and Warren County Coroner William Underwood will alternate teaching the classes which will meet once a month and cost $100.

Underwood has taught alcohol classes for several years as a coroner. He estimates he has spoken to more than 1,500 students.

"We use graphic pictures. They need to see what can happen," he said. "They will have to answer questions in essay form."|

They ask three questions in the class.

  1. What do you think the family of the deceased felt about losing their loved one to a DUI?
  2. What do you think the deceased person would have done with their life had it not been cut short?
  3. What do you think an appropriate punishment would be for the person responsible for the death had this deceased victim been a loved one of yours?

Underwood said he also plans on having victim's advocates come to the class and tell the students what it feels like to lose someone in a DUI accident.

"It's another deterrent to try and curb underage drinking," Underwood said.

Long-term the hope is to keep statistics on recidivism rates. If the program leads people to think before they drink and drive it will be a success he said.

"All we can do is lead the horse to water and hope it makes a difference," Glasgow said. "Those individual clients will ultimately decide whether it is effective, but we have to get the ball rolling."