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Inmates learn life skills to re-enter society in new S.T.A.R. Academy program

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BRIGHTON, N.Y. (WROC) — The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office unveiled the Andrew P. Meloni Strategic Training Advancing Re-entry (STAR) Academy on Monday.

The academy is designed to develop, educate and provide the necessary tools and resources to shape inmates into citizens after incarceration.

Inmates, who are called participants in the S.T.A.R. Academy, spend six months there. They have to apply to get in and currently, there are seven participants. One of them said the program makes him feel like he’s somebody.

Andre Vasquez was a drug user and tried different programs to set his life on track. Nothing clicked until S.T.A.R. Academy.

“When we’re assigned in jail and we’re in jail, deputies are deputies. When we came here for the very first time it was just a whole different scenario. They weren’t deputies they were more like mentors. They were eating with us, I mean that means a lot to us. Instead of telling us what to do they’re asking us, they’re showing us, they’re guiding us and that’s a huge thing because it doesn’t make me feel like I’m a nobody it makes me feel like I am somebody,” Vasquez said.

Participants work six days a week from early in the morning until dinner time. They learn skills to help them when they get out of jail such as how to find a job, stay sober, and set up a bank account.

Sheriff Todd Baxter said the purpose of the program is to change habits and lifestyles in that short six months.

“Those people you see standing behind me today they want to change they’re looking for that one opportunity they’ve had a lot of trauma in their life, they’ve made some bad mistakes that put them in here, and they gotta own that but we’ve got an opportunity to change their life,” he said.

Vasquez has one big goal when he gets out.

“I want to be a carpenter and build my own house and have my whole family in it, especially my mama,” he said.

The sheriff said the goal is to become a regional re-entry facility providing programming to outside agencies including the New York State Department of Corrections.

The academy uses no additional tax dollars and partners with 26 other local agencies.

“I am excited to witness the growth, development and success of individuals who want to live a clean, healthy life-style and embark on a different journey; one filled with responsibility and accountability for one’s actions, hope for repaired relationships, self-sufficiency and success. Think about a program that is taking a population that is often viewed as a burden on our society and evolving those individuals with healthy living skills into part of our community with stronger families and a higher tax base.”

— Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter said in a statement.

The Meloni STAR Academy is located at 750 East Henrietta Road and is formerly known as the Monroe Correctional Facility. The academy is modeled after working transitional jails throughout the world.

The program uses no additional tax dollars and partners with 26 agencies. The goal is to one day become a regional re-entry facility providing programming to outside agencies to include the New York State Department of Corrections.

The academy has three phases:

Phase One – Life Renewal and Character Enhancement:

  • Incarcerated individuals who express a commitment to work are assigned an MCSO deputy mentor, a counselor, and a spiritual mentor
  • Participants and their mentors work on life improvement skills that best suit the individual’s needs for growth and development
  • Programs introduced that address a participant’s deeper struggles with addiction and recovery, conflict resolution, mental health, anger management, and moral recognition therapy
  • Participants work six days a week on improvement and positive work habits

Phase Two – Vocational Training and Development:

  • Vocational training programs, designed around the middle skills gap, are integrated into participants’ development
  • Deputy mentors and participants build personalized progress reports
  • Educational groups and exercise groups are introduced
  • Participants build practical activities that teach real-life skills; including meal planning, financial literacy, driver safety and CPR/AED training
  • Conduct volunteer work with community organizations; building a sense of responsibility and community

Phase Three – Program Skills Implementation and Support:

  • With the ongoing support of deputies and staff, accountability for past actions is realized and right-sized, including paying off existing fines, back child support, etc.
  • Goals of the program evolve into building a support network necessary for long-term success
  • Open visits with family members introduced leading to stronger relationships and healing
  • Participants advance their training and embrace paid employment opportunities, fill middle skills job gaps, reducing the current shortage of skilled workers locally and nationwide (particularly in the construction industry) and begin to work toward a self-sufficient lifestyle
  • Facilitate transitional housing to those participants who have served their sentence, helping to ensure a safe and secure place to live while obtaining self-sufficiency

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