“The STAR program gives people the chance to be a part of society again. It reduces our incarceration costs, the drain on our social services, and it prevents crime, saves resources and keeps our community safe. It is not glamorous, but it is effective - and it is making the lives of our clients and our community better every single day.” - Tom Forray
Tom has been part of many innovative solutions Marin County has put into practice to reduce crime and serve the mentally ill. The opinions expressed here are the individual’s, not necessarily those of Marin County.
1. What department/program do you work with?
I work with the STAR PROGRAM – STAR stands for Support and Treatment After Release (STAR). We are the case management program for folks who are right out of jail and suffer from mental illness and substance abuse issues.
The program was started by Officer Joel Fay, Psy.D., who leveraged his experience as a clinical psychologist and an active duty police officer to bring about a new approach to treatment. Joel combined mental health with law enforcement for the first time in Marin. He saw the intersection of mental illness and criminal activity and realized that to reduce crime and substance abuse in our communities, we have to address mental illness – we have to understand and treat it so that we can change the actions of these affected individuals.
The STAR program created a court as an alternative to traditional supervised probation. The goal of STAR Court is to decrease the frequency of clients' contacts with the criminal justice system by improving their social functioning skills and by linking them to employment, housing, regular treatment, and support services. The court has its own judge, DA, public defender and probation officer.
Additionally, each client has his or her own psychiatrist and family partner. Each week, the court meets and the judge holds a client's feet to the fire around their treatment plan. By the time they graduate they will have been in therapy, clean and sober for 18 months, and will either be volunteering, working or taking classes at the college of Marin, and be living independently. The STAR program takes an individual from jail to a life of sobriety – where they are getting the treatment they need, and working and living independently.
2. How many years have you been with the County?
The program started in 2001, and I started with the County in 2003.
3. In a sentence or two, please describe the work you do.
Every day is different, depending on the needs of my clients. Often when we meet a client, they have nothing – coming straight out of jail or straight off of the streets. We will take people to the store to get clothing, we will work to reconnect them with family, find a treatment program, an outlet to work or volunteer. We will work to acquire stable housing, health care and therapy. Throughout the program, we are a constant support as they turn their lives around.
4. What brought you into this line of work?
Before I started working for the county, I was a family marriage counselor - I have a certificate in drug and alcohol counseling and one in criminal justice. I’ve worked with alcoholics and addicts my whole life – I’ve seen firsthand how people can, with the right tools and support, lift themselves out of terrible positions and lead healthy, safe and productive lives.
5. What have been some of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had on the job?
There isn't just one experience that has been rewarding. Based on our clients’ profiles when I first meet them, we’ve had some really great successes. For example, there was a gentleman we’ll call “Jim." Jim was a guy who you would refer to as a “bum on the street” – he was the guy you would see in dirty, ripped clothes, he was in the drunk tank maybe 200 nights a year. But when he graduated the STAR program – he was clean cut and totally put together, he had reconnected with his wife and children that he hadn't seen in 8 years, and he was back to work at a job that he loved.
We were all crying when he graduated because he gave us the most heartfelt thanks - he said, “you gave me my life back." He was considered a lost cause by everyone. But, he made it – with the right tools, the right team, the right support he took his life back and is now a healthy, contributing member of society.
6. What would happen to your clients if your department were downsized or eliminated?
In my personal opinion, if we didn't have the program, these guys would be in your back yard, looking in your window. The Marin County STAR Program gives people the chance to be a part of society again, it reduces our incarceration costs, the drain on our social services, and it prevents crime, saves resources and keeps our community safe. It is not glamorous, but it is effective - and it is making the lives of our clients and our community better every single day.