On March 18, representatives from Stony Brook University and AT&T joined Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. and County and Babylon Town officials to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Sheriff’s Transition and Reentry Team (START) Resource Center and announce the first community-based START Resource Center satellite location in Wyandanch, NY at the new headquarters for the non-profit Spin the Yard, Inc.
The START Resource Center offers a range of practical transitional services for people leaving the county jail, including employment assistance, connections to housing, treatment and mental healthcare, clothing, food, pandemic advice, and much more. It is staffed by correction officers and human service volunteers from the non-profit community.
In September, Sheriff Toulon successfully began expanding the START Resource Center into the community when he launched the Family Reunification Initiative in partnership with the Stony Brook University’s School of Social Welfare with the support of AT&T. The program pairs Stony Brook’s social work student interns with county inmates and their families, with an emphasis on addressing the unmet needs of children with incarcerated parents. The interns will now also work with clients at Spin the Yard’s new Wyandanch location.
“Sheriff Toulon has embraced a culture of corrections that should be a national model for reform, said Dr. Frances Brisbane, Vice President for Health Sciences and Workforce Diversity at the School of Social Welfare. “The START Resource Center provides the foundation from which law enforcement and the community can truly work in unison to protect public safety, provide treatment for justice involved individuals, and address the unmet needs of their children and families. Stony Brook University is pleased to be a partner in this important work.”
“We are thrilled about this new partnership with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office,” said Jacqueline B. Mondros, Dean and Assistant Vice President for Social Determinants of Health, School of Social Welfare. “The Family Reunification Program as part of the START Resource Center will help inmates and their families deal with the multiple problems they face in the reentry to society, removing obstacles that have led to the revolving door of the prison system. Our students will be prepared with cutting-edge skills to address some of the underlying issues the children of inmates face when they have an incarcerated parent. The opportunities afforded by this partnership align with the School’s mission to cultivate graduates who are grounded in social justice, human dignity and respect.”
“To effectively teach the next generation of social workers, agents of social change, advocates for social justice and human rights, we need community partners,” stated Warren Graham, Assistant Dean for the School of Social Welfare. “Partners like the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, the Start Resource Center, and Spin the Yard. Social workers and social work interns are integral in providing mental health support to community members experiencing both a disconnect from and reentry into the community.”
The partnership between the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office and the Stony Brook School of Social Welfare began in July 2020 when Graham met with members of the Sheriff’s Office to discuss a program that would engage School of Social Welfare student interns to work with county inmates who have families residing in Suffolk County. The idea was to help improve the transition and better reunify families upon release, as well as address some of the underlying issues faced by the children of county inmates when they have an incarcerated parent.
The hope was to allow the interns to do family work inside the jail during visits, but COVID restrictions prevented that from happening. Instead, the interns are working with inmates remotely out of the START Resource Center and connecting with their families separately. The students facilitate socialization groups with children soon to be reunited with incarcerated parents, and families who will integrate inmates back into the home soon. Additionally the interns coordinate services to support these families in transition, enlisting many Long Island community partners, including Family Service League, Long Island Harvest, Eastern Suffolk BOCES, New Hour, Department of Labor, Empowerment Collaborate Long Island, Empower, Assist, Care (EAC), Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence (LICADD), Leadership Training Institute, Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency, Fatherhood Initiative and the Salvation Army.
— Lynne Roth