Press Release

Justice Center study explores rural alcohol ban: Study finds fewest injuries in communities served by a local police presence

Released by the University of Alaska Anchorage

March 10, 2006

Wood, Darryl S. and Gruenewald, Paul J. (Mar 2006). "Local Alcohol Prohibition, Police Presence and Serious Injury in Isolated Alaska Native Villages." Addiction 101: 393-403.

ANCHORAGE – A new study released this week and conducted by Darryl Wood, associate professor in the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Justice Center, and Paul Gruenewald of the Prevention Research Center of Berkeley, CA, looks at rural communities that have banned alcohol and how the ban has impacted the communities in terms of serious injuries.

The statistical evidence from this study shows that while the prohibition of alcohol is an important first step, villages have the lowest rates of serious assaults when they are also served by a recognized police authority," said Wood.

The findings of the study indicate that fewer serious injuries occur in the villages that have put in place the local option, and, further, that in those villages which also have a local police presence in addition to the prohibition on alcohol, there are fewer injuries from assaults.

The findings are the focus of an article in the March 2006 issue of the journal Addiction. The article is titled “Local alcohol prohibition, police presence and serious injury in isolated Alaska Native villages.”

Since the 1980s, rural Alaska communities have been able to ban the sale, importation, and possession of alcoholic beverages. To what extent has the application of this local option resulted in fewer serious injuries in these villages? And is the presence or absence of a local police authority associated in any way with effects of the local option? The article appearing in Addiction discusses recent research relating to these two questions.

Legal prohibitions on alcohol sale, possession and use have not proved particularly effective on Indian reservations in the lower 48 states, but previous research has indicated that in geographically isolated communities, such as Alaska Native villages off the road system, local prohibition may be more effective.

The research undertaken by Wood and Gruenewald has advanced the previous work. Their study examined the effects of alcohol prohibition and police presence on serious injury in 132 isolated Alaska Native villages over the period from 1991 through 2000.

According to Wood, “The two other studies conducted on a statewide basis found that local prohibition reduces the incidence of deaths caused by accidents and intentional violence. Our study confirms these earlier studies in terms of the effects of local prohibition upon serious injury.” While earlier studies considered only the effect of prohibition, “This study expands upon those studies by also considering the effects of a lack of local police presence upon problems typically brought about by alcohol use,” Wood said.

The study measured serious injury through the Alaska Trauma Registry and death certificate records of the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics. Local option election records and police deployment records were used to classify cases as occurring in wet, damp or dry villages, with or without a police presence. The analysis revealed that villages that prohibit alcohol have lower age-adjusted rates of serious injury resulting from assault, motor vehicle collisions and “other causes.” Dry villages with a local police presence have a lower age-adjusted rate of serious injury caused by assault.

According to Gruenewald, future research can further clarify “the conditions under which local alcohol prohibitions are most effective. That way we can make specific policy recommendations for specific places.” Gruenewald notes, “Although national prohibitions on alcohol are generally ineffective, and in terms of crime counter-productive, local prohibitions can be very effective in reducing harms related to alcohol.”