Youth Ages 10-17 Arrested for Alcohol and Other Violations Decreasing

by Scott Richter & Dr. Patrick Jones

“When I was a kid, I had to walk 5-miles uphill to school – both ways” is just a funny way of pointing out differences from one era to the next. 

Considering what youth face today, compared to even a decade or two ago, there are both significantly different aspects (social media, opioids, methamphetamines), as well as pressures that have stayed pretty much the same (alcohol, tobacco, truancy).

Perhaps the largest example of change, both literally and figuratively, is the internet. On one side, the internet has provided easy access to information that certainly helps students with their academic work. On the other hand, social media has the potential to foster activities with repercussions making academic failure look tame.   

The Research and Data Analysis (RDA) Division of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Community Risk Profiles is a “comprehensive time-series collection of data related to substance use and abuse, and the risk factors that predict substance use among youth.”

Offered with directly comparable data for each county in Washington State, the RDA report provides statistical answers to questions about “youth substance abuse [and] other problem youth behaviors”. The ultimate goal of the RDA is to better understand “individual, family, school and community risk factors that can lead to youth substance abuse.”

The RDA doesn’t attempt to differentiate between the pressures youth faced previously that might have had a different effect on the statistical results. For example, the RDA did not change the definition of “a drug law violation arrest” when recreational marijuana became legal in Washington State potentially increasing access of marijuana to youth.

Looking at the Youth Arrested for an Alcohol Violation Trend, one can see that the rate in the combined counties was initially quite a bit higher than the state and national benchmarks. The series started in 1995 at 20.2 alcohol violation arrests per 1,000 youth ages 10-17; but by 2017, this had decreased to 2.7 in Chelan and Douglas Counties combined.

Generally, Douglas County has consistently had a lower rate than Chelan County, while the Cities of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee are reflective of their respective county.

Overall, the decreasing trend in the combined counties follows suit with the state and nation, but the decreases are more significant locally. Youth in the combined counties (in this case 8th, 10th, and 12th graders) have self-reported through the Healthy Youth Survey they are using alcohol less frequently than previous 8th, 10th, and 12th graders

According to the Washington State Attorney General, a Minor in Possession (MIP) alcohol arrest can occur for possessing any amount of alcohol, but an arrest is warranted by state law “even if the person is not drinking or does not possess [alcohol, or] any illegal substance. Possession is defined as having alcohol anywhere around you.”

While all youth alcohol violations are potentially serious, the majority of arrests are for either possession and consumption violations. Any alcohol violation committed by youth between the ages of 13 & 17, can result in losing their driver’s license until they turn 17, or for a year – whichever turns out to be the longest period of time.

Parallel trends are  the arrest rate per 1,000 youth ages 10-17 for property and violent crimes. Both declined significantly. The youth arrest rate for a drug crime decreased by only 0.7 from 2002 to 2017, still  more than twice the state rate.

Property crimes include burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. Violent crimes include homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Drug crimes include sale, manufacturing, and possession.

What to make, then of significantly arrests for alcohol? There could be many causes – greater education and prevention efforts, a switch to marijuana, greater enforcement at the point of sale, higher amount of time spent online and a general change of values toward drinking within families. Whatever the reasons, the trend is a welcome one.