Helping Suffolk County jail inmates thrive when they're released so they never return was at the heart of an event Thursday in Yaphank to promote a facility that assists their search for jobs, housing and other needs on the outside.
The Sheriff's Transition and Reentry Team (S.T.A.R.T.) Resource Center, which opened in February, is designed to offer a host "practical transitional services" for inmates set free from the county jail. Services include employment assistance, connections to housing, treatment and mental health care, help finding clothing and food as well as advice on how to stay safe during the pandemic, officials said.
Plans to have Thursday's event in April were put on hold due to the pandemic.
Suffolk Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. hosted the news conference near the jail, which was attended by county District Attorney Timothy Sini and other officials as well as former inmates now using the center.
For Joel Anderson, released from the jail in April, the resource center has helped him straighten out parts of his life that he said had led him "in and out of prison all my life."
The 56-year-old Mastic Beach resident strode up to a podium set up in front of the center, a protective face covering with an American flag design draped around his neck, and told those gathered:
"I'm standing here today because of the men and women you chose to run this program," Anderson said. " … A support system is important. I reached out and I glad I did and I'm glad I do."
The program begins with an interview process where facility workers talk with inmates to "find out what there needs are, whether it be housing, whether it be education, whether it be employment," said Deputy Vincenzo Barone, who attended the news conference.
Sometimes, Barone said, inmates are struggling with an addiction problem so the center offers assistance from related volunteer groups and nonprofits.
"We start a sheet identifying the problem and our team takes it from there and we start to match them up with outside," Barone said. "The goal is to set the person up upon discharge with whatever it is" they need.
The center currently offers assistance to more than 100 "clients," officials said.
Anderson said he was among the first to take advantage of what they offer so he could make a smooth transition to life, post-jail.
"Rehabilitation is a process and it happens on a daily basis," he said from the podium, stepping away at times as he got emotional or used arm gestures to make his points.
He talked about how the center has taught him the wisdom to make the right choices.
"That wisdom, even if it is a little drop," Anderson said, "makes all the difference in the world."