An innovative new program recently began in Morris County, focusing on the successful re-entry of inmates into civilian life.
The program, which could become a model for the nation, was announced by Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon, in collaboration with the Morris County Department of Human Services.
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.
According to the Congressional Research Service, two 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.
“I cannot put enough emphasis on the importance of aftercare support services when it comes to inmates incarcerated within our correctional facilities,’’ said 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.”
Morris County Human Service Director Jennifer Carpinteri agreed.
“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,’’ she said.
“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.
For a brief overview of the STAR program, visit:www.morriscountynj.gov.