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University of South Carolina reports drop in alcohol charges after introducing new fines

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Since introducing new fines for alcohol-related offenses, officials with the University of South Carolina say they've seen nearly a 30 percent drop in the number of charges issued this year compared to last.

The new fines were created by a group of faculty and students and went into effect in August 2012. University officials cited a continued increase in alcohol-related offenses and an increase in student deaths that were accidents related to alcohol as motivating factors for the change. 

Under the new fines, the first offense fine jumped from $50 to $250, the second offense increased from $100 to $350, and the third offense was elevated from $150 to suspension.

Student Conduct Director Alisa Liggett says after they introduced the new fines, her office began monitoring the number of charges closely.

"We started tracking every month because we did want to see a change," said Liggett. "When we saw by October and November right before Thanksgiving, we were between 30 and 40 percent [fewer charges] and then ended up close to 40 percent with the reduction, every single time we were so excited."

From August to Nov. 21, 2011, the university says it issued 974 charges for offenses related to alcohol. Under the new fines and the same time period in 2012, the university issued 648 fines -- a 33 percent decrease.

The latest numbers show that from August to mid-February of the 2011-2012 school year, the university issued 1,227 alcohol-related charges. In that same time period this year, the university issued 899 charges, a drop of 29.6 percent.

When it comes to being charged with a second offense, the university reports the number of charges has nearly been cut in half. Under the three-strike policy which calls for suspension, only five students have had three strikes compared to thirteen in the previous year.

University officials say overall misconduct incidents including vandalism and assault are down 6 percent as well.

"What we're seeing is a relationship between fewer offenses and the fines," said Liggett. "We do not have a direct causation, but we sure hope so because that's our end goal is to make sure our students are safe and just keeping them out of trouble."

So are students seeing a reflection of the decrease?

"I haven't really seen less partying," said Albert Jones, a sophomore at USC. "I mean they're college students, parties are going to happen."

But Jones says what he has seen is a change in the way students choose to party. "Just the choices they make or where they choose to go when they've been drinking or seeing anything of that nature," said Jones. "I guess they're just more responsible for how they partake in that."

Junior Becky DeRose agrees and says, "I've never gotten an under-aged drinking ticket or anything, but I did have a lot of friends that got them down in Five Points and stuff, but I feel like it's almost decreased."

Under the new policy, students who were ejected from a football game for public intoxication lost their student ticket. Liggett says 100 students were thrown out of games this football season. She says unlike previous years, those offenses were included in the total alcohol-related charges from Fall of 2012 (648 charges reported).

Liggett says overall her office is thrilled with the drop that they've seen in offenses, but adds there is still more work to be done. She adds that male freshmen students continue to receive the highest number of offenses.

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