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Teen Drinking Dangers: Buckhannon PD BASIC Program

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Our series of special reports on the issue of underage drinking begins with a look at how some young people are learning from their mistakes, instead of making them a pattern.

Underage drinking carries serious penalties in West Virginia; fines, possible jail time, and a record that can stick with offenders for the rest of their lives.

"They feel labeled," said Lt. Doug Loudin of the Buckhannon Police Department. "So they tend to say ‘Well, I'm never going to have this label erased, I'm never going to be able to find a job so I might as well keep doing what I'm doing.'"

In Upshur County, the BASIC program is aimed at stopping that spiral. BASIC stands for Behaviors Accountability Services Instruction Choices. Its aim is to hold young people accountable, while showing them a way out of their troubles.

A prosecuting attorney can recommend an offender to the program and a magistrate or city judge has to sign off on it, too. Then, they must complete two hours of classroom instruction, 16 hours of community service, and a written essay.

"Once they take the program and they realize how beneficial this program is, and they learn a lot from that," Loudin said.

College students may already have drinking habits before they get to campuses like Buckhannon's West Virginia Wesleyan College.

"It's a very big concern for our students," said Alisa Lively, the director of Student Life. "We hear about some of the areas that they come from, how open they are about drinking in their high schools and things and this is where we think it's time to stop and educate yourself."

If their students are caught drinking underage on campus their case stays within the Judicial Affairs office. If  caught off-campus, though, students must go through the municipal process, where some met Lt. Loudin through the BASIC program.

"The BASIC program that the Buckhannon Police Department offers is a win win with us," Lively said. "This program offers them the same opportunity as we would do on campus, an educational moment and then to stop and think ‘Why am I doing this?'"

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 4,700 deaths were related to underage drinking in 2012 and 32 percent of those involved traffic accidents.

"I've had to knock on parent's doors at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning and tell them that their child was killed in a car wreck," Loudin said. "If we can stop this pattern before it develops then they'll be better off. Society will be better off."

Lt. Loudin estimated 500 students have gone through the program over the last five years, and only a handful of them have failed the class.

Students declined to be interviewed for this report.

The program is only offered to first time offenders. If they successfully complete it, the charge is wiped off of their records. Loudin said offenders who receive DUI citations are not eligible to participate, due to the seriousness of the offense.