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Sheriff's youth-offender transition program recognized by Suffolk lawmakers

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco is pictured during

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco is pictured during a public hearing at the Suffolk County Legislature in Smithtown on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Credit: Barry Sloan

The Suffolk County Legislature on Tuesday recognized Sheriff Vincent DeMarco and dozens of members of his Youth Re-Entry Task Force, a program run from the county jail that aims to keep ex-offenders out of it.

"He developed this program to improve and better people's lives so when they get out of jail they have more likelihood of success and of being productive citizens," Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), the legislature's presiding officer, said at its meeting in Hauppauge. "It's amazing what they are doing with the youth."

DeMarco said he was pleased with the program's impact so far, including a drop in recidivism among participants: He said while 70 percent to 80 percent of people released from jail are rearrested, his program, which has been in operation for three years and served 150 young people, has seen a 12 percent recidivism rate.

"It's exceeded my expectations and restored my faith in that government can get things done in a pretty quick way," DeMarco said after the event, where members of the multiagency task force stood with him at the podium to accept a proclamation. "Collaboration is the key."

The program selects young people who are incarcerated from the ages of 16 to 21, houses them on a Youth Tier and places them in intensive programming and classes, from drug and alcohol counseling to job-training skills. Some participants, once they complete their sentences, live in transitional housing at the Timothy Hill Ranch in Riverhead, where they continue classes and training received while incarcerated.

DeMarco said the program has cost the jail no money because the task force, comprising dozens of social services agencies and nonprofit organizations, draws on the resources of programs already poised to help residents.

"All we did was change the way we operate," DeMarco said.

One teen, Michael, who asked that his last name not be used, was selected for the program and has lived at Timothy Hill Ranch for more than a year. He said he is now on the path to becoming a plumber, a far cry from the life he led when he burglarized a home and landed in jail.

Michael, 19, attributes graduating from high school, getting a driver's license and buying a car to his involvement in the re-entry program. He said his next step is to get his own apartment.

"This shows that the program is really working, and it's doing good for the community and for the youth," he said of the proclamation.

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