Dollar$ and Sense: You Booze, You Lose
Editor’s Note: The following appears as part of a series, Dollar$ and Sense, featuring reports from the class of Journalism 301, taught by UMass journalism department lecturer and internship coordinator B.J. Roche.
Two years later, Josh Fitzmaurice still remembers the night his party got busted.
Fitzmaurice, who was a junior at the University of Massachusetts at the time, had just bought $50 worth of liquor and other ingredients for “jungle juice,” as well as spent over $100 on a keg. Little did he know he’d be back at an ATM the next morning, this time not to buy alcohol, but to pay for the consequences of using it.
“We had around 50 or so kids at our house,” Fitzmaurice said. “Someone called the police on us for being too loud. The police came and issued me and two other roommates noise violations.”
The total cost was $300 total for all of the housemates, a fee that Fitzmaurice believes to be “ridiculous” for college students to have to pay. For him, it was a waste of alcohol and money, he said.
In spring 2009, members of Amherst’ Town Meeting voted in favor of increasing fines for noise, nuisance house, open container and keg offenses to $300 per incident. According to the Deputy Chief of UMass Police Patrick Archbald, the fine for a busted off-campus party in violation of a noise or nuisance house bylaw is now $300 per housemate. These fees are the maximum amount the Commonwealth allows municipalities to charge for such offenses, according to a March 21 article in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian. The article also states that the Town of Amherst’s voting members had hoped the increases would function partially as deterrents for potential violators,
While Fitzmaurice paid the older fee of $100 per incident per person for his noise violation, he is one of hundreds of UMass students who have paid a high price for the consequences of drinking. According to a “Underage Drinking Fact Sheet” created by the New York State Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services, college students spend $5.5 billion each year on alcohol. The fact sheet gained this statistic from a 1999 guide written by members of the Pacific Institute of Research and Evaluation, whose project was supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in conjunction with its Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws program. The statistic does not appear to include costs incurred from violating laws, but rather illustrates the amount of alcohol in dollars purchased by college students per year.
So, as Fitzmaurice discovered, there’s an additional cost for many college students, who end up paying both for the alcohol and the costs of the violations a party with alcohol can lead to violations of noise by-laws, out-of-control parties, and open container laws.. According to the same Collegian article, “from Sept. 1 of last year to March 1 of this year, there [was] a 38 percent increase in noise violations and a 229 percent increase in nuisance house offenses.”
These consequences include the penalties for being caught for underage drinking as well as violations of noise by-laws, out-of-control parties, and open container laws. They can include the cost of a lawyer, ambulance fees, bail and court fines. Additionally, the University’s BASICS (Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students) program, whose goal is to “reduce risky behavior and the harmful consequences of alcohol abuse,” charges students $100 for the first course.
Court fees could range anywhere from $200-$800 and bail alone is a $40 payable to the clerk. From the courtroom, the judge orders the students to take the BASICS course, which is $100 for BASICS 1, $175 for BASICS 2 and 3, which is required for students who receive second and third offenses, respectively.
Fitzmaurice says he has learned from his mistakes but believes UMass and the Town of Amherst are too strict with some of its penalties to students.
“I believe the noise violation fines are absolutely absurd now; $300 per housemate is crazy for college students who barely have money to begin with,” Fitzmaurice said. Fitzmaurice currently has been living off campus for three years. Fitzmaurice said he spends around $50 per week on alcohol.
UMass senior Max Gutmans relates to Fitzmaurice, saying he spends between $50-$60 per week on alcohol and that alcohol hurt his bank account freshman year.
“I got arrested for underage possession of an open container, paid $40 bail, about a $100 fine to the court and about $150 probation. I then had to take the BASICS course for $100,” Gutmans said. “I was rushed in an ambulance another weekend of freshman year, which cost me about $800.”
Junior Tony Dow had a similar freshman year experience. After spending money on the BASICS 1 course, Dow is more aware of drinking and the consequences of doing so.
“I still drink, but I try and stay away from getting in trouble. I am much more cautious now,” Dow said. He currently has a job and said he isn’t as concerned with spending a $50 weekly allowance on alcohol.
“Having a job now makes me less worried about spending as I was freshman year,” Dow said.
Echoing Dow’s remarks, Diane Fedorchak, the project director of BASICS, said students are learning from their mistakes. Only 10 percent of the students that took BASICS 1 come back for the BASICS 2 course and only 2 percent return for BASICS 3, she said.
“When students come to BASICS, a lot say they don’t have the money to pay for the course but they have the money for alcohol,” Fedorchak said with a chuckle. “If BASICS was $5, students would do it easier.”
She added that liquor stores in the Amherst area say that at the beginning of the year students splurge and buy the most expensive alcohol and towards the end of the year they tend to go for the cheaper options.
Some students, like Fitzmaurice, UMass’ methods of intervening in students’ alcohol use through BASICS unnecessary. Fitzmaurice said his household will throw occasional parties but not as many as he and his housemates would like to hold.
“UMass is becoming too uptight and ruining the overall college experience for students to come,” he said. “College is supposed to be the best years of your life and give you the first real sense of freedom, and I think with all these new regulations and Amherst by-laws it is really aggravating and costly to students.”
“It’s not about the money, it’s about a good time,” added Gutmans. “We go to college once.”
Amy Chaunt can be reached at email@example.com.