From the Morris County Freeholders:
MORRIS COUNTY SHERIFF AND COUNTY HUMAN SERVICES ANNOUNCE KICKOFF OF THE “STAR PROGRAM’’ AT MORRIS COUNTY JAIL
FOCUSES ON SUCCESSFUL RE-ENTRY TO CIVILIAN LIFE FOR INMATES
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon, in collaboration with the Morris County Department of Human Services, today announced the start of an innovative new program focused on the successful re-entry of inmates back into civilian life, one that could be a model for the state and nation.
The STAR or Successful Transition and Re-Entry Program offers a series of almost-immediate post-incarceration activities and programming to prepare ex-offenders to return safely to their communities and to live as law abiding residents and neighbors.
“I cannot put enough emphasis on the importance of aftercare support services when it comes to inmates incarcerated within our correctional facilities,’’ said Sheriff Gannon. “If you don’t give the inmates the tools they need to make a difference upon discharge, they will most likely go back to what they know.”
“We are excited to team up again with Sheriff Gannon on a program that has the potential to make a difference in so many lives,’’ said Morris County Human Service Director Jennifer Carpinteri.
“This new initiative has the potential to make a difference in our county, to help individuals get back on a positive track while also making Morris County a better and safer place to live,’’ added Morris County Freeholder Director Doug Cabana.
The STAR Program will deal with substance abuse issues, which are prime causes of behaviors that lead to criminal activity and incarceration, and a current focus of the Sheriff’s Hope Wing Program at the county jail.
However, the program also will provide ex-offenders with essential life tools, assisting them with housing, employment and training, education, family reunification, mental health services, dental care, and basic needs such as food, medical care and clothing.
Participating inmates will leave the county jail with a pre-arranged appointment and comprehensive aftercare plan. County social services workers from the Office of Temporary Assistance immediately will begin working with referred inmates, conducting personal interviews and teaching life skills, organization and goal setting.
They will continue those efforts for up to 12 months, helping ex-inmates overcome barriers to jobs, housing, and education, while also focusing on drug, alcohol and mental health issues.
To make this possible, the county Department of Human Services has allocated two full-time staff members to the project and has created a satellite office onsite at the Morris County Correctional Facility.
“We are proud that Morris County is the first county in the state to have dually-trained professionals, who can work on eligibility for federal and state benefits for clients from within the walls of the correctional facility and also address their social service needs once they are released,” said Carpinteri.
According to the Congressional Research Service, 2 million people are incarcerated across the nation. Some 95 percent of those individuals will be released.
However, within five years, nearly three-quarters of those ex-offenders are re-arrested and more than half return to jail or prison. The prime reasons: Homelessness, lack of education, unemployment, mental illness, and substance abuse.
“We have to do something to start to change this negative pattern. “That’s why this STAR Program is so important and has such great promise,’’ said Sheriff Gannon. “It should increase inmates’ likelihood of success when they are released into the community, consequently reducing crime and chances of re-incarceration.”
Upon completion of the 12-month program, a “warm handoff’’ will be facilitated between the STAR staff and a licensed treatment provider for continued assistance for the ex-inmate.
As part of the STAR program, inmates who are battling addiction may be eligible for medication assisted therapy options, to be determined by the jail’s medical staff on an individual basis.
Dr. Elmer Gilo, medical director at the county jail, has approved the use of VIVITROL to qualifying inmates upon their release. That medication is a non-addictive treatment used to prevent relapse in opioid dependent patients when used with counseling following detoxification.
The strength of the STAR Program’s post release component relies on partnerships with other service providers in the community.
The county’s partners in this venture include mental health and addiction providers, health clinics, educational institutions, housing specialists, the Morris County Chamber of Commerce and the Morris County Employment and Training Services, among many others.