Commissioner Marie Williams Named Chair of The Council of State Governments Justice Center Advisory Board

January 12, 2022

 Commissioner Marie WilliamsMarie Williams, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, will oversee the CSG Justice Center’s efforts to advance safety and second chances across 50 states and all three branches of government.

The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center welcomes Marie Williams, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and current Advisory Board vice chair, as the organization’s new Advisory Board chair. In this role, Williams will leverage her extensive leadership, policy, and oversight experience to help guide the CSG Justice Center’s efforts to develop research-driven strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities. As commissioner, Williams serves under the leadership of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, whose focus on criminal justice reform has produced meaningful changes in the state.

“It is such an honor to be able to be part of this amazing group of changemakers from across the country. My time on the CSG Justice Center Advisory Board has been enlightening and impactful, and going forward together, we are truly shaping a future for our communities, our states, and our nation that is innovative, collaborative, and restorative,” said Williams.

Prior to Commissioner Williams’s appointment, the Advisory Board was led by Justice Michael P. Boggs, who serves on the Supreme Court of Georgia.

“During my tenure as Advisory Board chair, justice professionals across the country sought new ways to responsibly reduce the rates of incarceration, strengthen community supervision practices, and to safely keep more individuals in their local communities in response to the realities of a global pandemic,” said Justice Boggs. “I’m proud of the work we did to provide empirical data and proven strategies to states and municipalities that formed the basis for many timely and responsible criminal justice reforms. Now, I can think of no better person to lead our work than Commissioner Williams. She brings invaluable experience and proven leadership in behavioral health services and criminal justice reform and is well prepared to guide the work of the CSG Justice Center during the next phase of responsible reforms. I’m excited about the future of our work under her leadership.”

Through her career in behavioral health services and as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Williams has demonstrated her leadership in key areas such as substance use services, emergency psychiatric services, criminal justice reform, and housing and homelessness services. Appointed commissioner in October 2016, Williams has led an unprecedented growth of publicly funded prevention, early intervention, treatment, and recovery services, with annual budgets growing from $337 million to more than $504 million in the current state fiscal year.

During her tenure as commissioner, Williams spearheaded the creation of the TN Together initiative, which aims to address opioid addiction. The initiative has led to public investments in substance use treatment, addiction prevention, and law enforcement for Tennesseans. She also established a unique public-private partnership with the Tennessee Hospital Association to address the amount of time patients in psychiatric distress spend in emergency departments. Williams has worked to more than double Tennessee’s network of recovery courts and oversees the department’s juvenile justice diversion programs.

Prior to her role as commissioner, Williams initiated the Creating Homes Initiative (CHI) as director of Housing Planning and Development at the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Since 2000, CHI has leveraged more than $850 million and developed more than 28,000 housing options for people diagnosed with mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorders. The program has been expanded twice to create additional housing for people recovering from substance use disorders who are returning to communities after incarceration.

“We are thrilled to have Commissioner Williams serve as our Advisory Board chair,” said Megan Quattlebaum, director of the CSG Justice Center. “She is our first chair to come from a background in health and housing, rather than in the justice system. Having her as our new leader underscores the CSG Justice Center’s conviction that, to improve outcomes for people touched by the justice system, other systems and sectors will need to be engaged as critical partners. Commissioner Williams’s experience in the areas of behavioral health, criminal justice reform, and housing and homelessness services is rivaled only by her deep dedication to the people her work serves. Her leadership and vision are just what we need at this critical juncture in our nation’s efforts to build better systems of safety and justice that work for everyone.”

Throughout her career, Williams has received numerous professional and community awards, including the Excellence in Advocacy Individual Achievement Award from the National Council for Behavioral Health, the George Goodman and Ruth P. Brudney National Social Work Award from Mental Health America, the Alumni Professional Achievement Award from the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and the Senator Douglas Henry Award for Service to Children and Families at Risk from the University of Tennessee College of Social Work.

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