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City panel outlines alcohol, substance abuse suggestions

Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Juneau needs a community coalition to address alcohol and substance abuse issues, the Mayor's Task Force on Sobriety told Juneau Assembly members on Monday.

Underage drinking, a shuttle service for bar patrons, sobriety checkpoints, streamlining drunken driving arrest procedures, vehicle forfeiture, therapeutic courts and targeted enforcement are some of the issues a coalition could discuss, according to task force chairwoman and Mothers Against Drunk Driving volunteer Cindy Cashen.

The coalition would be similar to the Mayor's Task Force on Youth and could involve religious groups, businesses, PTAs, social service agencies, Native groups and others, she said. Not every group would need to attend every meeting, she said.

Cashen asked for support from the Juneau Police Department and Assembly members. The coalition would need to be broad-based, she added.

"We have to include young people. We can't just say it, we have to do it," she said.

Matt Felix, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence's Juneau affiliate, said alcohol consumption per capita in Southeast Alaska is higher than the rest of the state. The number is connected to health care, crime, domestic violence and child abuse problems, he said.

"We have a serious problem, a very serious problem," he said.

Juneau District Court Judge and task force member Peter Froehlich said the number of minor-consuming-alcohol cases isn't going down in Juneau and has ranged from 25 to 55 in recent months. The number of people who are arrested is just the tip of the iceberg, he said.

Froehlich suggested the city re-examine a decision to discontinue residential services for misdemeanor offenders and increase involvement in therapeutic courts. The task force also suggested the city be more enthusiastic about enforcing probation violations, he said.

Juneau Mayor Sally Smith said she plans to talk with task force members about the proposals. The city might be able to tackle a few issues right away, she said. Police training and the city's work with the court system were some areas that stood out, she said.

The task force also suggested the city take the lead in re-establishing a municipal entity to target funding for prevention and treatment. Felix said local agencies have missed funding opportunities since the city's old department of Health and Social Services was disbanded.

Smith said more coordination between agencies might be the first step.

Task force member Ethan Billings of Marlintini's Lounge suggested the coalition look at re-instituting a shuttle service for bar patrons on weekend nights and during big events. The service could be funded by corporate sponsors, he said.

"If it's reliable, clean and safe people will use it," he said. "Even if it keeps three people from driving at night, it's a success."

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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