Providing former Suffolk County inmates with the tools they need to be productive members of society was the inspiration for the creation of a new facility in Yaphank. At a July 30 press event, sheriff officials said the facility will assist with jobs search, housing and other needs as they head back into the community.
The Sheriff’s Transition and Reentry Team Resource Center is poised to offer a range of “practical transitional services” for inmates leaving the county jail including employment assistance, connections to housing, treatment and mental health care, among other things. It is staffed by correction officers and human service volunteers from the nonprofit community.
The START Center had a soft launch in February, stayed open during the height of the pandemic and currently serves more than 100 clients. A ribbon-cutting ceremony, previously planned for early April had to be postponed. Suffolk Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D), District Attorney Tim Sini (D) and other county officials were on hand for the event.
Toulon said creating the facility had been a dream of his. At the event he spoke about his experiences working in law enforcement for more than 30 years and a moment he shared with his father.
“When I was a young child, I asked my father, a warden on Rikers Island, what he did for a living. He said, ‘We rehabilitate people,’” Toulon said.
When inmates are discharged and come into the center, they will be interviewed by one of the resource workers where they identify his or her needs. For example, if an inmate has an addiction problem, the center will connect them with the appropriate nonprofits.
“Whether it be housing, employment, education, SNAP benefits or transportation, we try to start the process as soon as possible,” Deputy Vincenzo Barone said.
He added that all inmates at the Yaphank Correctional Facility know about the program, with the center being a short walk from the jail there. Those being discharged from Riverhead will be picked up and brought to the START Center, where they will begin the intake process.
Joel Anderson, of Mastic Beach, who was released from jail in April, spoke at the press event about how the resource center has helped him get his life back on track.
“I’ve been in and out of prison all my life,” he said. “If I wasn’t a part of this process, being benefited by the program and services I wouldn’t be here to speak today. I’m standing here today because of the men and women who run this program. … I’m glad I made that call.”
Anderson said he continues to better himself every day.
“Rehabilitation is a process and it happens on a daily basis,” he said. “Now I have people I can reach out to — it’s not always peaches and cream. That wisdom, even if it is a little drop, makes all the difference in the world.”