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Sheriff's Department unveils STAR support, supervision program

Eagle-Tribune - 4/5/2022

Apr. 5—LAWRENCE — People working in every arm of law enforcement agree that simply jailing inmates won't necessarily change their behavior or improve their lives.

"We knew there was a better way to do this," Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger said at the kickoff of a new initiative for those entangled in the justice system. "That's the real goal of STAR."

The county Sheriff's Department on Monday unveiled Supporting Transitions and Reentry — or STAR. The new program elevates the mission of helping people move beyond their criminal pasts while working to reduce recidivism.

At locations in Lawrence and Lynn, participants will receive support services, resource referrals, employment counseling and other help. The program's creators hope streamlining these services in one spot will increase the number of people who take advantage of them.

Each participant will be assigned a "STAR Navigator" who evaluates his or her strengths, passions and interests, then creates 30-day step plans.

The options on which to build those plans include anger management and parenting classes, virtual and community vocational training and high school diploma testing, and individual instruction. The courts, corrections and probation offices, and other community organizations make the referrals.

Program partners include Northern Essex Community College, Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School, Lawrence Training School and Lahey Behavioral Health, among others.

"You're saying we don't need to put people on a path that leads downhill," Congressman Seth Moulton, D-Salem, said during the kickoff ceremony Monday.

"This is absolutely the way forward," added the congressman, who secured $850,000 in federal funding for the program.

Coppinger said STAR has been in the works for years, but was stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as supply chain issues.

"But we are finally here," Coppinger said, addressing roughly 100 police and probation officers, court clerks, judges and others gathered at the Lawrence STAR office.

The office is located at 360 Merrimack St. at Sal's Riverwalk. The companion office is at 100 Willow St. in Lynn.

Jessica Oljey, an assistant superintendent with the Sheriff's Department, specializes in reentry when inmates leave the county lockup. Oljeye said with STAR, she will help inmates anticipate the obstacles they may face — be it legal problems, homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment or some other challenge.

In his remarks, Moulton told the crowd, "We all make mistakes and we are all human."

But, he said, something else is true, too.

"We all have pieces of us that are just a good person," he said.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.


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