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How effective has the legal prohibition of alcohol been in controlling crime? A recent Department of Justice Report (U.S. Department of Justice) said that alcohol was a factor in 40% of all violent crimes and accounted for 40.9% of all traffic fatalities in the U.S.A. In the last decade. But these figures were 34% and 29%, respectively, lower than those of the previous decade. The Report further stated that arrests conducted for driving under the influence of alcohol correspondingly declined and attributed this to the establishment of the legal and uniform drinking age in the early 1980s.
Elucidating, the Report said that, approximately 3 million violent crimes occurred each year in that decade where the offenders were drinking at the time. And although arrests were made in every age group, those made on offenders below 21 notably decreased. The rate of intoxication in fatal accidents, it said, likewise went down in every age group at the time of the enforcement of the minimum drinking age.
The prohibition of alcohol, which began as a movement in the Colonial days of the early 1900s, was not intended to eliminate the ingestion or taking of alcoholic drinks, but only to temper or reform the habit (Rapczynski and Zywocinski 2000). The churches initiated the Movement, and they were later joined by social service and other cause-oriented organizations. At that time, the early settlers were attacked by Indians who were heated up by liquor, described as "strong waters," which they learned from the settlers themselves. In reaction, leaders in Massachusetts and other early colonies banned the sale and giving of this strong drink to the Indians, until they realized the futility of enforcing such laws on them. That early, the colonists - Puritans included - that alcoholic drinks were necessities, but had to be used in moderation. Soon, they also discovered that they could realize tax revenues from these drinks and use these to maintain forts and build schools and churches (Rapczynski and Zywocinski).
But they also disapproved of anyone who drank in excess and even severely punished those who got habitually drunk. They were fined, sentenced to the stocks, whipped or publicly chastised by wearing the scarlet letter "D," which stood for Drunkard. The colonists formulated regulations to control the use of intoxicating drinks, but not to prohibit them entirely. When these regulations proved harsh to those who wanted to drink as much as they pleased or found "necessary," opposing voices began sounding off. Soon, import duties and excise taxes went up on these drinks, so did revenues and smuggling of these. Rum was a popular favorite, especially at funerals, weddings, christenings, town meetings, even at work. The first to seriously work for its prohibition was James Oglethorpe, the founding father of Georgia and also the father of the prohibition of alcohol. He worked hard to eliminate excess use of hard liquor. The Trustees finally moved the British Parliament and King George II to fully enforce the law. The Movement coincided with a great national religious revival that overtook the country at the time, until temperance began to be an integral part of the churches, which viewed drinking as a major hindrance to salvation by leading people to sin. When the prime movers were agreeable about the sinfulness of alcohol, they could not decide on what to do with it, and some of them turned their attention on the manufacturers. The Washingtonian Movement (the forerunner of Alcoholics Anonymous) was organized in 1841, but quickly fell off. The interest on temperance also tapered off until the zeal that once reigned among the movers vanished. They realized that moral encouragement was not strong enough to wean Americans away from alcohol.
While leaders would not touch on the people's own decision to ward off alcohol, political pressure was focused on the destruction and elimination of the liquor business, using legal measures. This trend began even before the Civil War (Rapczynski and Zywocinski), but it stubbornly remained in the books as a most important source of financing for the government. Liquor tax accounted anywhere from half to 2/3 of the entire internal American revenue from 1870 to 1915. The Internal Revenue Act was the imprimatur of alcohol by the government: it gave federal approval and encouraged greater sales of liquor in order to realize more federal income.
In the 1860s, the softened voice of prohibitionists was joined by the women power wave, called the Women's National Christian Temperance Union. The Union held that women should be freed from the disasters which liquor brought about in their homes. But soon, European migrants settled in America and populated the towns and cities, forming an industrial society among them. Many had a long tradition on moderation, which led them to become a prohibition force: immigrants against native-born Americans, political machines against a home government, and liberals against conservatives (Rapczynski and Zywocinski). A difference came again in 1896 when a Protestant clergyman in Ohio, Dr. Howard Russell, put up the Anti-Saloon League and pledged to work really hard for the legal drive against the use of alcohol. In 1880, Kansas incorporated a prohibition into its Constitution. Georgia, Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia did the same. When the prohibition threat grew, brewers pumped money into the states especially during elections and into chambers of commerce and also paid to learn about the strategy of the prohibition movement, whose power began to show itself around 1913. By 1914, prohibitionists gained many seats in Congress. During the War, the monumental Eighteenth Amendment was introduced, prohibiting the manufacture, sale or transport of intoxicating liquors. The effective leadership of the prohibitionists rallied behind it and the ban already being observed in 26 states then and the Amendment was ratified. This resulted in cutting down drinking among workers, but in 1933, the Twenty-first Amendment repealed this prohibition. Reasons advanced consist in the perceived failure of the prohibition and the Great Depression that began in 1929 and which required badly needed additional revenue. The general public even blamed the prohibition as the cause of the depression.
The collision continues to the present. A strict law was enacted in California in 1994 that revoked a license when the licensee was caught selling alcohol to minutes thrice in a three-year period (Ryan and Mosher 2000). But law enforcers, policy activists and local policy makers took undue advantage of it to close down outlets. In 1998, SB 1696 replaced it, and since then, there have been more attempts to derail it.
Meanwhile, the minimum drinking age was fixed by law at 21 in the early 80s, and it was reported that such laws reduced traffic fatalities, among drivers between 18 and 20, by 13% and saved roughly 20,043 lives since 1975 (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). A nationwide survey held in 2000 revealed that approximately 9.7 million persons 12-20 years old reported drinking before the survey, 6.6 million of whom were binge drinkers and 2.1 million were heavy drinkers (NHTSA).
Controlled or moderate drinking was perceived as nothing more than a moralized middle category between abstention and alcohol drinking at both extremes (Room). The terms "controlled" and "moderate" mean nothing outside a clinical setting, which recognized a "predisposing X factor" as determining a propensity for liquor and presumed that people without it could never turn into alcoholics (Room). The trend soon showed that the difference between the "moderate" and the "hard" drinkers lied only in their behavioral patterns over time. This belief explained alcoholics as having so far lost control over their drinking that their major social roles inside and outside the home are damaged. The controlled or moderate drinker, on the other hand, limits his or her drinking to a small number on occasion and falls short of intoxication.
Advocates of the alcoholism movement felt that there should be a non-moral distinction between the alcoholic and the social drinker, one that does not paint the person in moral terms and neither blames nor credits. The idea that alcoholism is caused by a gene relieves the hearts of families of alcoholics as to the latter's moral form. For over half a century, these advocates have struggled to draw the contrast between these types of drinkers (Room).
Drinkers have strong advocates too, especially among those younger than 21 (Reber 2001). These opponents have a spokesman, Attorney General Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, who believed that the minimum legal age for drinking should be reduced from 21 to 19, on the grounds that 18-20-year-olds can pay taxes, adopt a child, get drafted into the military and own firearms. Not only did it make sense to Doyle that these youngsters should also be allowed to drink, but that they cannot be restrained from drinking in secret anyway.
Despite claims of dwindling alcohol-related violent crimes incidence and alcohol-linked traffic fatalities, many still believe that the legal policy against alcoholism has been intolerable and failed. There is hardly any significant evidence that fixing a minimum age has helped, and there exists proof to the…[continue]
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