Liquor and law-breaking

The connection between drunken drinking and traffic accidents has been well documented over the years. Other studies have noted the link between drinking and lower productivity in the work place resulting from absenteeism or mistakes made on the job. Now, a new US Justice Department study details what many law-enforcement experts have long surmised: an unmistakable correlation between drinking and crime.

The landmark study, based on interviews with 12,000 inmates in state prisons in 1979, vividly underscores the need for American society to rethink its broad tolerance of alcohol use and drinking in general. The findings also suggest that one way of reducing the crime problem in the US is by supporting government and private-industry programs aimed at reducing alcoholism.

It was found that nearly one-third of the inmates surveyed had been drinking very heavily just before committing a crime. About 20 percent had been drinking very heavily every day of the year before they were convicted. And perhaps most telling, up to half the prisoners had consumed some alcohol before they committed their offense.

Granted, the exact degree of correlation in all this has yet to be sorted out. For example, was it the consumption of alcohol that emboldened the inmates to commit the crime? Or are persons with social problems (who often commit crimes) among those most susceptible to heavy drinking?

Still, the linkage itself should not be taken lightly. It is particularly noteworthy that persons convicted of such violent and antisocial crimes as rape and assault - as well as habitual offenders - were regular heavy drinkers. A society that has grown accustomed to glossy advertisements extolling the virtues of social drinking might well reflect on such statistics as it contemplates the more hidden costs of alcoholism.

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