Posted Saturday, March 16th, 2019

Brings Social Services, Education, Job Opportunities into the County Jail

Morris County social service providers, probation and police officers, and a group of high school students assumed the roles of former jail inmates on Friday (March 15) to experience the biases, destitution, social and emotional challenges some inmates have upon discharge back into the community.

Sheriff James. M. Gannon talks about the STAR Program

Sheriff James. M. Gannon talks about the STAR Program

The re-entry simulation held at the Morris County Public Safety Academy was the first public showcasing of the Successful Transition and Re-Entry (STAR) program started in October as a collaboration between Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon and the Office of Temporary Assistance within the Morris County Department of Human Services.

Both Sheriff Gannon and Morris County Freeholder Heather Darling noted in opening program remarks that the recidivism rate of individuals incarcerated at the Morris County Correctional Facility is about 48 percent – or 48 percent of the same individuals are rearrested and returned to jail. The rate won’t drop without meaningful programs offered to inmates, Sheriff Gannon said.

“This is a holistic approach to a population that needs our support,” he said.

STAR case managers (l/r) Sierra McEniry and Melissa Maney at their STAR office at the Morris County Correctional Facility

STAR case managers (l/r) Sierra McEniry and Melissa Maney at office at the county jail

The event, attended by more than 100 people, was organized by STAR case managers Melissa Maney and Sierra McEniry, whose office is based at the Morris County Correctional Facility.

Inmates voluntarily sign up for STAR, where they are assisted, before and after discharge, with access to medical and substance abuse recovery services, housing, Temporary Aid To Needy Families, Medicaid, SNAP, jobs, identification documents, and even Vivitrol injections to help prevent relapses to alcohol or drug dependencies.

“There’s no cookie-cutter method. We’re meeting everyone where they’re at,” McEniry said.

There are 83 current and former inmates in the STAR program in Morris County.

Role-playing at the STAR simulation

Role-playing at the STAR simulation

The simulation was facilitated by Kimberlynn Reeves of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, an expert on re-entry program who has worked with the New Jersey State Parole Board.

Reeves took charge of running the simulation in which participants were given “life cards” that gave them a new identity, details of their crimes and sentences, and a schedule of obligations they had to fulfill over a four-week period, including paying probation fees, restitution to victims, undergoing urinalysis, and paying for food, rent and utilities.

STAR client Michael Lester, who spent several months in the Morris County Correctional Facility for his third drunken driving offense, shared a bit of his story with the crowd. He said his first DWI occurred 10 years ago after his wife died and he got another DWI charge for riding an electric bicycle while intoxicated.

Lester said he saw participants laughing and enjoying the simulation but he stressed that his incarceration was not a joking matter.

“In real life, when you go to jail, you’re not laughing,” he said, explaining that Maney and McEniry, the STAR caseworkers, helped him receive Vivitrol, set up dental and medical appointments, and find an apartment.

Freeholder Heather Darling speaks of the benefits of the STAR Program

Freeholder Heather Darling speaks of the benefits of the STAR Program