Darnell of Huntington Station admits he was quick to fight during disputes.

"I couldn't keep my hands to myself," he said before the Public Safety Committee of the Suffolk County Legislature Thursday. "I was one of those guys."

But Darnell, 19, whose last name Newsday has agreed to withhold, credits the 15 months he has spent at the Timothy Hill Ranch in Riverhead -- and two weekslong stays in the Suffolk jail -- for changing his attitude.

"I'm not saying it's the best place in the world," he said of the ranch, which houses formerly incarcerated young men and helps them gain skills, education and a positive work ethic. "But it's the best thing that ever happened to me."

Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco Thursday asked the Suffolk County Legislature to support nonprofit agencies like the Timothy Hill Ranch that support his Youth Re-entry Task Force and programs for women in the jail, saying the services are critical to his programs' success.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

He asked legislators to help fund a discharge planner at the jail, transition-to-society support for people leaving the facility, a space within the jail for the nonprofits that serve that population, technical assistance for agencies requesting grants, special transitional housing for young adults with mental illness and improvements to the county's shelter system.

DeMarco's programs rely on organizations such as Brighter Tomorrows, the Brookhaven and Riverhead youth bureaus, Eastern Suffolk BOCES, Herstory Writers Workshop, New Hour for Women and Children, and the Long Island Council on Drugs and Alcoholism to provide wraparound services that can help inmates transition back into society with coping and job skills, speakers said.

Kristin MacKay, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, said the youth program has yielded drops in recidivism, a smaller youth jail population and $10.5 million a year in savings on correctional expenses.

Barbara Egloff, divisional administrator for Eastern Suffolk BOCES, said five students have completed high school while incarcerated and 32 are industry-certified in various skills. "It was a great opportunity for me," said Star Clark, 30, of Brookhaven, who has used the services of New Hour and other agencies and now looks forward to gaining back her parental rights to her sons, who are 10 years and 16 months old, as well as finishing her education and getting a driver's license. "It would have helped me not become a repeat offender."