Reality House was founded 42 years ago, in 1970, with a more limited role than today: it was to provide local judges, for the first time, with an alternative sentencing option for first time offenders.
At the time, circuit judges could send these convicted offenders to prison, usually the state penitentiary, or back onto the streets in the care of probation officers. Using federal money provided under the Law Enforcement Assistance Act, our local LEAA committee researched and established Reality House based on a fledgling experiment in Minnesota. One of our current Board of Director member, Hank Waters, states that one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences of his civic life was service on the LEAA committee under the chairmanship of Judge Frank Conley and subsequently as a founding member of the Reality House board, a position he says he is “pleased to occupy to this day”.
With fragile funding and the challenge of selling their dream to judges, state legislators and other public officials in lawmaking and criminal corrections fields, Reality House began to do good work and gradually proved its worth. For the first time, judges had a better option for many of the fledgling criminals they had to sentence and public budget makers found good reason to provide funding as part of their corrections budgets.
The judge could sentence the first-time offender to probation with an initial experience at Reality House, where serious rules were in effect and heavy-duty Reality Therapy counseling occurred. A fact of criminal life is that most youthful first-time offenders were, and still are, afflicted with drug and alcohol problems. As Hank says, “The idea, of course, was to divert the burgeoning miscreant from a life of crime and into productive citizenship.”
The idea proved successful. The original role continues, and Reality House since has evolved to fill a continuum of criminal justice system and treatment programming.
The original dream, still being worked out today, was to take care of local criminal offenders here at home instead of sending them off to dangerous environments, such as prison. It was believed then, as it is today, that it would save lives, save money, make society safer and allow judges to provide more humane, intelligent options for sentencing.