Sometimes it takes more than a stern warning from a police officer or a district judge handing down a hefty citation for an underage drinker to reverse his or her course.
That's the premise behind a newly established underage drinking court that holds monthly sessions before Lycoming County Judge Nancy L. Butts.
The purpose of the court - that held its first meeting in June and a second earlier this month - is to give first-time offenders and those who have not committed serious crimes a chance at redemption.
"You're not going to always get 100 percent abstinence," said Marc F. Lovecchio, an attorney who serves as the master of the court. "But, if we can get kids to make wiser and better decisions, it can have an impact on their lives and their families' lives," he said.
Lovecchio said the court is not paid for through taxpayer dollars.
"I'm doing it pro bono," he said.
It brings together experts from West Branch Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, adult and juvenile probation, the judicial system, and counselors and mentors. Sessions are peer-driven and designed to send a clear and precise message to the participant about the consequences of drinking alcohol before the age of 21.
Police chiefs refer applicants whom they deem to be acceptable, Lovecchio said. That means offenders clear of any misdemeanors or felonies, he added.
Old Lycoming Township Police Chief William Solomon, who was asked to be on the court's advisory board, sees benefits to delaying the issuance of the citation to give participants time to think about their mistake.
"I think it's a good idea," Solomon said. "You get first-time offenders on the right path, guide them, focus them and get them down the right path."
The officer delays issuing the citation for underage drinking until the applicant completes the course that takes several weeks, he said. Meanwhile, it also gives time for police who have two years to file the citation, Lovecchio said.
Lovecchio and Solomon said the court is intensive and multi-faceted, age-appropriate for the child - some are as young as 13 - and follows rules established by the judge.
Lovecchio said he is trying to encourage the involvement of public high schools and colleges that have additional resources and can help make a more comprehensive approach.
Carl L. Shaner, a registered nurse who is Student Health Services director at Pennsylvania College of Technology, said he welcomed such a court. He is seeing highly impaired students who come through student recovery areas.
"These students are twice to three times the legal limit and go through an educational process," Shaner said.
He agreed the educational impact, rather than punitive measures, sometimes works better.
At Valley Prevention Services, 520 W. Fourth St., an agency that is not affiliated with the underage drinking court, but has had its own program in effect since 1985 for teenage alcohol offenders, prevention specialist Lisa Fogelman said referrals for the intervention program often come from district judges.
Fogelman said she is hopeful her agency can provide