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New program links parolees, services

Getting out of jail is one accomplishment, but staying out is the ultimate goal.

The new parole re-entry program established by the Niagara County Probation Department is designed to do just that.

"We are both excited and daunted by the task," Niagara County Probation Director Anthony Mauro said of the new program.

The program also hired a coordinator, Joseph A. Julian, who began his new job last week.

Niagara County was one of three counties awarded an annual $100,000 grant from the state Division of Criminal Justice to establish a re-entry task force.

"Re-entry is a vital component of our criminal-justice strategy," said Denise O'Donnell, the division's commissioner. "We know that a returning offender's ability to adjust to life outside of prison is linked to his or her success in obtaining housing, securing employment and dealing with drug or alcohol dependency and other health-related issues."

These grants were awarded to nine other counties, including Erie, in 2006, and all received funding for a second year. The re-entry program is open to those counties participating in Operation IMPACT, a program designed to reduce violent crime.

Mauro said that services for offenders are available in Niagara County, but the job of the re-entry program is to coordinate all these services for an offender who is coming back into the community.

"One thing I learned from Operation IMPACT is that so much more can be accomplished once collaborations are established between local law enforcement agencies," said Mauro.

"We know when an offender comes out they need services such as housing, substance abuse counseling, employment. Representatives from housing authorities, treatment agencies, employment centers are out there [and are part of the task force]," Mauro said. "What I envision is for the coordinator to set up a plan for what the offender needs and we hope a parole officer will get this plan and can follow up."

Mauro said the $100,000 grant mostly covers the cost of hiring a coordinator and said the program will continue if it is successful.

Julian, who started on the job last week, knows he has been given a mission.

With his background working for the past four years in the Niagara County Jail as a caseworker for inmates with mental health issues, he said he can hit the ground running.

Julian graduated from Niagara County Community College with a degree in criminal justice and Buffalo State College with a degree in sociology.

"The big thing in public safety is to improve the coordination between agencies. The key for someone re-entering society is to provide information for offenders about what kind of services are available. The task force is a very effective way of letting offenders know about services," Julian said.

"The whole idea of anything we do is to rehabilitate. We can't help everybody, but you've got to try," Mauro said. "Hopefully an offenders needs will be addressed and we will never have to see them again."


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