alternative sentencing and the empowerment center group photo

Alternative Sentencing & The Empowerment Center with Sergeant Andrew Sherbondy

The Empowerment Center is a proud partner of the Washoe County Department of Alternative Sentencing’s STAR Program, which prioritizes Support, Treatment, Accountability, and Recovery for individuals with Opioid Use Disorder. This pilot program focuses on addressing the root causes of addiction, moving away from the traditional probation model. We spoke with Sergeant Andrew Sherbondy, who spearheaded STAR’s first-of-its-kind in our region approach in October 2022.

Here’s how STAR’s different, its history, and why it works:

5 members of the reno star program team

What’s the STAR Program?

The Department of Alternative Sentencing provides pretrial supervision for all levels of offence and misdemeanor probation supervision. In 2014, as a result of the opioid epidemic and seeing an increase in positive drug test for fentanyl and other opioids, Sherbondy submitted a grant application for a new pilot program: STAR.

STAR follows an intensive supervision model and multidisciplinary approach, with Andrew’s team including a probation officer, a licensed clinician, a peer support specialist, and a case manager. Together, they provide wraparound support for 25 people. “A big part of the program model hinges on community partnerships,” Andrew explains. They use Medication Assisted Treatment for much of their caseload and often place individuals in residential, recovery, housing, or inpatient programs. The STAR program contracts with The Empowerment Center for four beds for female participants who’d benefit from receiving treatment in a safe, sober environment. Andrew notes, “we’ve seen some pretty staggering improvements in mental health and in recovery for the gals that are in The Empowerment Center’s program.”

Sergeant Andrew Sherbondy headshot in dark grey polo shirtSergeant Andrew Sherbondy headshot in dark grey polo shirt

Sergeant Andrew Sherbondy headshot in dark grey polo shirtHow STAR is Different

STAR is an evidence-based program, Sherbondy explains, and “one of the best things about the Department of Alternative Sentencing is our ability to get our hands on people pretty close to the point of arrest,” when studies show they feel most ready to change. STAR will recommend these pre-trial individuals to the judges at the Reno Justice Court and enroll them in the program. From here, they’ll assess risks and needs, develop a treatment plan, and reach out to treatment facilities.

In contrast to the traditional “do or don’t do, comply or don’t comply” probation model, STAR sees itself as a person-centered program model that meets each participant where they’re at, in a way that resonates with them. They stay in regular communication with their clientele and treatment facility partners, with their probation officer, clinician, and peer support specialist generally visit treatment centers weekly, or more often if needed. If a participant arrives at onsite and expresses interest in leaving, STAR will check in more often and make sure he or she feels supports. “Everyone knows, on an intellectual level, that a sober program is a good thing. But it’s very different when you’re actually packing the bags and leaving behind your comfort zone. Even if that comfort zone is problematic.”

In addition, the STAR team regularly visits The Empowerment Center and other treatment facilities to do interactive journaling, through an evidence-based journaling series called The Courage to Change.

Andrew Sherbondy’s Path

Andrew never thought he would be a law enforcement officer. His father was a Federal Probation Officer, and Andrew knew he didn’t fit the mold for a cop. He was going to be a counselor. But, he saw the level of effort is dad put into meet people, and how he pushed for treatment focused supervision in his own way. For Andrew, “that planted a seed in my wanting to be involved in something more solution-focused, being able to help people, but also help the community at the same time.”

In 2020, Sherbondy started to put together application and bring together contact in the treatment community to make the STAR Program happen. He consulted with different treatment providers, including Crossroads and The Empowerment Center, to get feedback on how to approach the program and position it for success. He also looked to similar programs in other states for guidance.

reno nevada's star program staff in office with wood table

What’s Next for STAR?

STAR is a grant-funded pilot program, the first of its kind in Northern Nevada. The program is working to demonstrate the efficacy of treatment focused, multidisciplinary efforts in probation supervision. They aim to change minds – and show how approaching criminal behavior as a symptom of addiction and other mental health issues simply works better. By including an interdisciplinary team and, as a result of their grant funding, maintaining a small and manageable caseload – they’re able to work with participants in a more meaningful way.

While STAR just opened its doors last October, they’re already looking to grow. They’re hoping that by demonstrating success, they can increase their funding, team size, and the number of participants they support. In addition to their partnerships with The Empowerment Center and other treatment centers in our community, STAR was recently awarded a grant to open a recovery house and community of their own. Their intention is to create a sober living environment for people leaving treatment centers, but not quite ready for independent living. Like The Empowerment Center and Marvel Way, Sherbondy understands that the opioid and housing crises are intertwined and wants to address them both, together.