HACKENSACK, N.J. – Any county jail that has a revolving door out front isn’t doing all it can to protect the community: That’s why Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino has made helping inmates return productively to their communities a hallmark of his administration.
Saudino’s latest move: Appointing retired Englewood police sergeant and current Bergen County NAACP President Anthony Cureton the jail's in-house director of transition services.
“He’s perfect for the job,” the sheriff recently told Daily Voice. “It’s a good place for him – and for us. He’ll make a difference.”
Saudino’s transitional program has assessed nearly 1,200 inmates prior to their release over the past three years.
It’s been led by Bonnie O’Brien, a local philanthropist and “re-entry specialist” who, the sheriff said, “dedicates countless hours of volunteer service to the county to assist the men and women who are returning home to the community” from the jail.
Each week, the multi-disciplinary team meets with inmates expected to be released within 90 days to determine their needs – finding housing, employment, treatment, educational services and food.
Particular emphasis is placed on veterans and single parents returning to the community, Saudino said.
The key, he said, is the follow-up counseling and mentorship provided by O’Brien and her staff at the non-profit Transition Professionals agency in Hackensack.
“Our mission is to reduce recidivism by maintaining a grass-roots community of dedicated professionals interested in helping others with rehabilitation and reform,” O’Brien said. “Services include assisting clients with resumes and job searches; providing community service hour opportunities; employment training; programs, meetings and classes for effective reintegration into the community.”
It has “helped us change lives in an immeasurable way,” Saudino said. Offenders released with a plan are less likely to reoffend, he noted.
“It is so important to make sure that offenders returning to the community have the tools that they need to lead productive lives as lawful members of the community,” the sheriff said. “This helps to reduce crime in our neighborhoods.”