Published on June 20, 2023
Innovative Program Links Individuals in Court System to Life-Saving Services
Morris County officials and guests celebrated the second anniversary of Community Connections, a program launched through the Morris County Sheriff’s Office Successful Transition and Re-Entry (STAR) Program, the New Jersey Administrative Office of Courts and the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office to reintegrate court-involved individuals into the community.
A ceremony was held yesterday in the public meeting room of the Morris County Board of County Commissioners in Morristown. Guest speakers included Sheriff James M. Gannon, Superior Court Judge Robert M. Hanna, Commissioner Director John Krickus and Supervising Assistant Prosecutor LaJuan Tucker.
Remarks also were shared by Assistant Municipal Division Manager Charisse Avoletta and Community Connections Coordinator Correctional Police Officer Justin Sudol, as Curtis Bowers, Jr., a client of Community Connections shared his story of successfully completing the program.
“Any time I needed something, I called, and they answered… I went back to school, I paid my fines. I got my license back after 20 years all because of this program. I got certified for a few things. Now I’m trying to help other people. I got a car… My daughter took me out yesterday for Father’s Day,” said Bowers, Jr., who is currently employed through the Mental Health Association (MHA) and is working towards becoming a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist.
The Community Connections program is the first of its kind to assist court-involved individuals by connecting them to an array of services, including substance abuse recovery support, mental health services and social services as they are processed through the judicial system. The Sheriff’s Office, Prosecutor’s Office and the New Jersey Administrative Office of Courts have been working together to provide support to individuals struggling with substance use and mental health disorders, which helps prevent them from reoffending after their release from custody.
Risk factors that lead to a return to the judicial system include homelessness, lack of education, unemployment, mental illness and substance abuse, all of which Community Connections addresses.
“We’re very fortunate that people are ‘yes people’ in Morris County and the (Morris/Sussex) vicinage… People say, ‘Yes, let’s try to figure this out. What’s best for the client, and what’s best for the community?’ Community Connections is an innovative approach that connects court individuals to mental health and substance abuse services, as well as social service benefits. These three main services were identified to be the foundation for which these individuals can build upon to be successful,” Sheriff Gannon said.
Serving as a pilot program for the State of New Jersey, the program has already proven to be successful by connecting more than 280 individuals in the court system to life-changing services.
“We like to say there is no better run county in New Jersey than Morris County. We have a lot of number ones. We have some of the safest towns and communities, and we’re also number one in social services, thanks to programs like the Sheriff’s Hope One mobile recovery unit, another first of its kind that’s being replicated across New Jersey and other states… With Community Connections, we see help for individuals who might be struggling with substance abuse or a mental health disorder,” said Director Krickus.
The Mental Health Association and Prevention is Key’s Center for Addiction, Recovery, Education & Success also are essential partners in providing these life-saving resources.
“This program has shown to work. It started off as a pilot program, but we can clearly say with the connections that we do have with mental health, recovery support and connecting people to social service benefits, it all encompasses them. All three of these services have shown that people can be successful being out of the criminal justice system and back in society,” stated Officer Sudol.
Court-involved individuals can fill out the online referral form on the Morris County Sheriff’s Office Community Connections webpage or by scanning the QR code on the Community Connections brochure.
Photo 1: Sheriff Gannon applauds Community Connections Client #71, Curtis Bowers, Jr.
Photo 2: Director Krickus addresses the group at the ceremony.
Photo 3: A crowd gathers outside the Commissioners Meeting Room for the 10:00 a.m. Community Connections ceremony.
Photo 4: Community Connections Coordinator Correctional Police Officer Justin Sudol.