Project Offer Help Sets-Out to Identify and Assist Trafficking Victims
Published on April 09, 2021
In October 2020, members from the Morris County Sheriff’s Office; Bureau of Corrections implemented a victim assistance program titled, “Project Offer Help” in an effort to identify and assist incarcerated victims of human trafficking.
Using a trauma informed approach and a coordinated response team, correctional staff have been trained on how to recognize and intervene when a potential victim of human trafficking enters the correctional facility.
Project Offer Help is comprised of select sworn and civilian staff members at the Morris County Correctional Facility and has grown now to include both nationally recognized clinical and law enforcement professionals throughout the country.
Morris County Undersheriff Alan J. Robinson, a nationally recognized expert on sex trafficking and child exploitation, oversees the program and is a valuable in-house resource with his extensive knowledge and training within his field.
Under the direction of Correctional Police Captain Joseph Fucci, the Morris County Correctional Facility has a multidisciplinary platform of staff dedicated to identifying, validating, and referring victims of human trafficking to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office for investigation.
“Incidents of human trafficking are often complicated and victims do not always feel that law enforcement is there to help. Project Offer Help is yet another example of Morris County’s commitment to justice at all stages, enabling those who may be experiencing a mental health challenge connect with resources that aid in breaking the cycle of exploitation;” Morris County Prosecutor Robert J. Carroll said.
Correctional Police Detective Corporal Edwin Santana, a nationally recognized gang expert and team leader, has played a big part in educating staff at the Morris County Correctional Facility on the correlation between gang activity and human trafficking. Additional staff within the facility devoted to Project Offer Help include Counselor Jennifer Castner, MA, who uses her background in crisis response and victim services to provide training and consultation to staff, and Clinical Psychologists’ Larissa Graham, MA and Rebecca Kooger, MA who are working in tandem with the Intake Unit to respond to referrals of potential victims.
In January of 2021, members from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Human Trafficking Unit conducted training for staff at the Morris County Correctional Facility and expressed a desire to remain involved to provide ongoing education on victimology training for staff. Training and related material for staff has also been provided by local resources such as Stephanie Klotz, MSW from Morris County JBWS, a nonprofit agency that provides safety, support and solutions to victims of abuse, and Laura Magnone, Assistant Prosecutor/Special Deputy Attorney General with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.
More recently, Edwin Torres, a nationally recognized gang expert and investigator with the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation, joined the team to assist with training.
Sheriff James M. Gannon said: “Human trafficking experts have determined that victims often do not seek help unless they are directly asked. By validating their experience and providing basic screening and interventions, a victim may be empowered to ask for help during incarceration. At a minimum, we will be opening the door for victims to understand that our law enforcement community is ready to assist them in achieving a safe and heathy lifestyle.”
Project Offer Help is currently working to establish a relationship with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Portland, Oregon for possible collaboration. Multnomah County began a similar victim centered correctional facility outreach program to help connect trafficking victims to a healthier lifestyle upon release. They also created a database to assist with ongoing trafficker investigations and to share information with agency partners. It is the goal for Morris County to mirror their program to build awareness of trafficking and assist with dismantling trafficking operations within the community.
Project Offer Help meets on a monthly basis for training and discussion surrounding suspected victims and to discuss current state and national trends. Captain Fucci, who chairs the monthly meetings said; “As long as we can help one, mission accomplished.”
Inquiries may be directed to Captain Steven Piatti at (973) 631-5406 or [email protected].