To Kelly Cruz, it’s pretty simple: Either you pay for underage drinking prevention programs now, or you pay for incarceration later.
“And we all know jail time is six or seven times as expensive,” Cruz said.
Cruz is chairman of the West Central Community Prevention and Wellness Initiative Coalition, which is hosting a forum on underage drinking prevention tonight at West Central Community Center.
He said West Central youth are twice as likely to be arrested for alcohol possession and crimes involving alcohol compared to the state average.
A $10,000 state grant made it possible for the coalition to partner with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and collaborate with the Spokane Police Department to increase enforcement checks at local convenience stores.
“Part of the grant requirements is public outreach,” Cruz said.
Representatives from law enforcement, substance abuse prevention programs, youth programs and public health services will be at the forum to present research and answer questions.
“We are not reaching enough kids,” Cruz said, adding that data shows drinking is increasingly a problem in middle school.
Cruz said he’s also concerned about how marijuana will be more readily available to underage youth when dispensaries and shops open soon.
“I hope the forum will help people realize that we really have a problem,” Cruz said. “And we need to address it.”