While you stay locked away in your bedroom upstairs, respecting their privacy, your teenagers are having a party with some friends to “blow off steam” following a rough semester.
You bought them a keg. As long as they stay at the house, what is it going to hurt?
It could hurt a lot, apparently, according to the state of Illinois.
The Social Host Law (235 ILCS 5/6-16), updated earlier this year, states “no person, after purchasing or otherwise obtaining alcoholic liquor, shall sell, give, or deliver such alcoholic liquor to another person under the age of 21 years … it is unlawful for any parent or guardian to knowingly permit his or her residence, or any other private property under his or her control, to be used by an invitee of the parents’ child or the guardians’ ward, if the invitee is under the age of 21.”
So giving your kids beer could result in a misdemeanor or even a felony in some cases. Seems like common sense, right? Not necessarily.
“When I was in high school, this was sometimes a socially acceptable practice,” Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said during a recent town hall meeting at Alton High School to discuss the state law. “There were times when parents bought beer for parties, and there were times when kids drove away from those parties and, on a couple of occasions, kids died as a result of drunken driving accidents.
“This is really an issue about the parents; the responsibilities that we as parents have to take care of our kids, make sure we are making good choices, and set a good example for them.”
The meeting, hosted by the Drug Free Alton Coalition, was held Oct. 23 in an attempt to inform and educate parents and others in the community that providing alcohol to teenagers, no matter the situation or circumstances, is a crime the city and state both take very seriously. Consequences include jail terms of up to one year, and even prison time if a serious tragedy occurs.
In addition to Gibbons, speakers included Alton Mayor Brant Walker, Alton Police Department Public Information Officer Pfc. Emily Hejna, and Madison County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Jeremy Dunham.
Dunham says underage drinking parties can be reported to the county’s police dispatch desk at (618) 692-4433 or the anonymous tip line at (618) 296-3000. If law enforcement arrives, it could result in a Class A misdemeanor or Class 4 felony for the host.
“Upon arrival, there will be a thorough investigation as to whether or not the host has furnished the alcohol and/or condoned the use of the alcohol,” Dunham said.
The forum was open and allowed guests to ask questions about the law. In response to one inquiry, Alton Police Department Public Information Officer Pfc. Emily Hejna clarified that parents and guardians needed to be aware of the activity going on to be held responsible.
“You have to have the knowledge of it going on in your home,” she said. “If we find out through the investigation that you knew it was going on, that could be a problem for you. If you are legitimately out of town and your kids throw a party, that does not automatically make you responsible.”
The subject of culpability in rental property also was brought up. In the same vein, law enforcement targets “trouble” properties and the tenants as a rule, not necessarily property owners.
Gibbons said it appears the law began to change in 2004, when the legislature imposed civil liability on social hosts.
“As our society has changed over the years, attitudes towards alcohol consumption by minors have also changed,” Gibbons told AdVantage News. “People realize the tragic harm that can result from minors consuming alcohol, and they now demand that the law hold adults accountable for providing alcohol to minors.”
Representatives from the Drug Free Alton Coalition spoke as well, including project coordinator Emily Mangi, Greg Gelzinnis, and students from the AHS Power of Peers group.
“As a longtime member of the Drug Free Alton Coalition, I am very pleased with the support that we are getting from the city and county as we work together to make the Greater Alton area a truly drug-free community,” Gelzinnis said while speaking with AdVantage News. “It was exciting to see more parents getting involved and it will be important, as State’s Attorney Gibbons said, that they continue to be in dialog with and recruit their circles of friends.”
Gelzinnis says he hopes these types of events become a “rallying cry” to community students and parents regarding the issues of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
Coalition meetings are held at 12:30 p.m. every third Thursday of the month at Castelli’s Moonlight Restaurant on 255, 3400 Fosterburg Road, Alton. For information, visit www.drugfreealton.com.