Program targets kids caught with alcohol

The program is not open to those who drink and drive.
& lt;a & gt;By NANCY TULLIS & lt;/a & gt;
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Young people in Shenango Township who get caught drinking alcohol before age 21 have an alternative to a citation and driver's license suspension.
Shenango Township Police Sgt. Nick Ventura has begun a program designed to give first-time offenders a harsh dose of reality that will hopefully do more to deter young people from becoming repeat offenders than would paying a fine and losing their driver's license.
The program requires participants to visit the Lawrence County Jail and the Allegheny County Morgue, and be evaluated by area drug and alcohol counselors and members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
The idea is to show the young people the bad effects of drinking.
Lawrence County District Attorney Matthew Mangino said the program is a great idea.
"We want to do anything we can to assist with this program, particularly working with the Allegheny County coroner," Mangino said.
"This is an innovative way to address the problem of underage drinking and make an impact on these young people," he said. "Too often the parents pay the fine and the kids walk away."
Why this is needed
Lawrence County District Justice David Rishel said the program is an excellent idea because "quite frankly, the normal process isn't working. We're not having much impact by revoking driver's licenses because we're seeing a lot of repeat offenders," he said.
Rishel said about a dozen first-time offenders opted for the program so far. Shenango Township is the first police department in Lawrence County to implement the program, he said.
He said he and Mangino hope to work closely with Allegheny County for more access to the Allegheny County morgue.
"It's tough to schedule a tour of a morgue, but it is effective," he said. "One of the things they do is show what an actual human liver damaged by alcohol use looks like compared to a healthy one. You can look at that in a book, but it won't have nearly the impact as the reality."
Rishel emphasized the program is only for first-time offenders who are caught buying, possessing or consuming alcohol before they are 21. Repeat offenders are not eligible for the program, nor are first-time offenders if they get behind the wheel.
"I cannot emphasize that enough," Rishel said. "DUI is a whole other matter and this program cannot apply in that case."
Rishel said if underage drinkers are cited, they face a 90-day suspension of their driving privileges and up to a $300 fine. For first-time offenders who opt for the alternative program, Rishel will postpone sentencing for 90 days.
Any participant who does not meet all four requirements of the program within 90 days will no longer be eligible to participate, and the fine and loss of driver's license will then be imposed.