At a recent suburban Maryland high school graduation party with lots of teen drinking, the party-hosting parents were given two civil citations each, carrying fines of up to $1,500 per infraction, says the Washington Post. That was considerably less severe than the panelty for a Charlottesville, Va.-area mother and stepfather who recently began serving 27-month jail sentences for hosting an underage drinking party. In Virginia and Washington, D.C., parents who host such parties can be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor that can carry jail time. In Maryland, hosting an underage drinking party is punished with a civil penalty, payable with a fine, even for multiple offenses.
Even at a time of strong concern about youth drinking and drunken driving, police and prosecutors say parents are rarely held responsible — criminally or civilly — for allowing teenagers to gather at their homes and consume alcohol. That’s in large part because it’s difficult to prove that the adults provided alcohol or condoned its use. The issue is becoming more urgent as more parents, fearing their teenagers will drink anyway, allow alcohol at home to keep the youths off the roads. Stacy Saetta of the Center for the Study of Law and Enforcement Policy, a California-based research center on alcohol policy, said parties can involve “hundreds of kids in this new Internet era of text-messaging, MySpacing and instant communication. Some of these parents are hosting these parties out of the goodness of their hearts. They think they’re doing the best thing [by] keeping them at home. But there’s just too many dangers present when you get a bunch of young people together with money, with alcohol and with cars.”