Young first-time drug and alcohol offenders in Carroll County might soon get a dose of reality -- a shocking one -- if referred by juvenile authorities to a new education program already deemed a success in Tennessee and on the Eastern Shore.
Called Reality, the program should be in operation in Carroll by August or September, said Tfc. Terry Ober, coordinator for the Maryland State Police, who works from the Centerville barracks in Queen Anne's County.
Reality, which was founded in Tennessee 16 years ago, came to Maryland about 18 months ago, after Ober learned of its success from two Tennessee sheriff's deputies.
Of 91 participants in Kent, Queen Anne's, Worcester and Talbot counties, 76 have completed the program.
In Tennessee, where more than 3,000 youths in 29 counties completed Reality, the recidivism rate is less than 5 percent, Ober said.
Cpl. James M. Gossage, the Reality coordinator for the Queen Anne's County Sheriff's Office, said four of 81 participants in Kent and Queen Anne's counties -- less than 5 percent -- have re-entered the program.
The program helps offenders ages 14 to 21 learn the cost of their substance abuse.
In 10 hours spanning four Friday or Saturday nights, they are asked to plan their own funerals, write their own obituaries, watch movies showing paramedics working on accident victims and visit a hospital emergency room for a firsthand view of how drugs and alcohol affect them and their families, said David J. Tucker, supervisor of Carroll County's Department of Juvenile Justice.
Tucker welcomes the program, which he said is designed to increase community involvement.
The success on the Eastern Shore is "impressive and encouraging," he said. "The low recidivism rate is excellent."
Participants typically pay $95 to enroll in four 2 1/2 -hour sessions, making the program self-supporting after an initial cost of about $7,500.
Ober, who presented an overview of the program to Carroll leaders last week, said he expects to search for a community organization or business to cover the start-up costs.
First-time offenders in Carroll usually are referred for counseling and are required to perform 10 to 20 hours of community service, Tucker said.
The Reality program is not mandatory, but Tucker said his agency could offer it as an alternative to performing, for example, 150 hours of community service. "That might be a suitable incentive for offenders, or their parents, to choose the program," he said.
The Reality program was created by the Rev. Jerry Geho, who began taking troubled teen-age parishioners to the dying and the dead in hospitals and funeral homes in Lawrenceburg, Tenn.
About six years ago, the program began operating statewide in Tennessee. Maryland became the first state to join Tennessee in adopting it, Gossage said.
Volunteers -- police officers, paramedics, funeral home directors, lawyers and accident victims -- help teach the sessions, he said.
"The kids [who have completed Reality] tell us the program has changed their lives, getting them to think about the consequences of their actions," Gossage said. "Most say they have never thought about death. The program is doing what it's designed to do."
After Carroll, Ober said, he has requests to help implement the program in Garrett, Wicomico, Harford, Somerset, Frederick, Prince George's and Baltimore counties.
Authorities in Delaware, Virginia and Orlando, Fla., also are interested in Reality, he said.
Pub Date: 4/22/98