The director of the Northumberland County drug and alcohol program believes increasing the maximum fine for underage drinking and public drunkenness from $300 to $500 for a first-time offender and $1,000 for second and subsequent offenses will help alleviate a serious problem.

New legislation that increases the fines for underage drinking and public drunkenness went into effect Christmas Eve. The former maximum fines were $300 for public drunkenness and first-time underage drinking citations. Repeat offenders were subject to $500 fines.

Authored by state Sen. Jake Corman (R-34) of Centre County, the legislation had strong support from both Republicans and Democrats, including district attorneys and police chiefs throughout the state.

Fines for the offenses had not been increased since 1972.

Glenda Bonetti, drug and alcohol director for the county, believes underage drinkers will think twice before indulging and said the increases in fines should reduce alcohol-related disturbances.

"I definitely think increasing the fines is a good thing that will help curb the underage drinking problem," Bonetti said Monday. "The key is to make teens and their parents aware of the fine increase. A lot of kids don't pay their fines, their parents do. So if the parents know the fines have

increased, I believe they will take a more active role in dealing with their sons or daughters when it comes to drinking."

Bonetti said, in 2012, 25 people have successfully completed a Youthful Offenders Program for first-time offenders cited for underage drinking, public drunkenness or providing police with false identification through the county's four magisterial district justice offices. She said the program, which currently costs $500, was instituted in 2010 by Magisterial District Judge Hugh Jones of Mount Carmel.

The purpose of the program is to deter, rehabilitate and educate offenders. Jones started the program after realizing the importance of educating young people on the dangers of drinking alcohol after presiding over several underage drinking cases in a short period of time after he took office.

The program, which is geared mostly to teenagers, is similar to the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program conducted by the county for individuals charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, who have their offenses expunged if they successfully complete the program.

If a person successfully completes 14 hours of alcohol education instruction, he or she will have their summary charges dismissed and will not have their driving privileges suspended.

An important aspect of the program is the requirement of offenders' parents to participate.