Adult, Underage Criminals Shown Corpses at ME's Office

A new program in San Diego County hopes a hard dose of reality will help criminals change their ways.

Participants look at real pictures of brains destroyed by drugs and mangled DUI victims. Then, they tour a room full of covered corpses.

The Medical Examiner’s chaplain and “Beyond the Caution Tape” founder Joe Davis started these courses a few months ago. Judges and parents often sign up adult criminals and at-risk youth for the program.

Davis hopes it will be used more as alternative sentencing. The program isn’t meant to torture the participants, but rather educate them.

“We get to educate them about the reality of the potential road they’re going down,” Davis said.

The program is modeled after one at the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office. Ed Winter, the Assistant Chief Coroner there, says in 11 years and nearly 30,000 participants, less than 5 percent re-offended. He could only remember two people who died for reasons that got them into the program.

Patrick Williams and Monica Hartman were among a group of participants in July. Hartman is a wife and a mother of two children – not someone you’d think was recently in jail.

“I had some challenges in my past with drugs and alcohol,” Hartman said. “It was my own doing. I did that. Nobody else did that. This is an opportunity.”

The program started with a room full of strangers for the most part. Davis showed picture after picture, far to gory to even describe. He also showed videos and public service announcements. Just when the group felt like they couldn’t take anymore, he took them on a walk they’ll never forget.

They started by walking down the halls of the Medical Examiner’s office. Davis showed them where bodies are brought in, where organs are stored and where homicide detectives view bodies. Then he brought them to the “refrigerator room.”

Aside from the dozens of covered corpses all around, the smell hit everyone like a brick wall. It was an awful smell that stays with you for hours. Davis said it’s not in your nose, but in your mind.

Davis knew no one wants to be on this tour. He said the feeling is mutual; he doesn’t want to see them again either.

“Chances are if I see you again, you may very well come through this office, and I don't want that happen,” he said.

By the end of the two-hour class, Hartman said she felt like she never wanted to do drugs again. She said, “I'm here for my husband and my two children. I just want to honor them with my sobriety and my life.”

Click here to learn more about the program.

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