This June, I am thrilled to kick off the CSG Justice Center’s 20th anniversary celebration. Twenty years ago this month, a group of dedicated criminal justice stakeholders and thought leaders released the Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project. The report outlined 47 policy statements to guide legislators, practitioners, and advocates as they work to improve responses to people with mental illnesses who have contact with the criminal justice system. This publication was the first of its kind, and it did what the CSG Justice Center does best: bring together key leaders from various impacted systems to come to consensus around evidence-based policy recommendations.
When we published this report in 2002, those original staff members were still part of the Council of State Governments Eastern Regional Conference. Today, we have blossomed into the CSG Justice Center, an organization of more than 100 researchers, practitioners, and policy experts who believe deeply in our mission to advance public safety, strengthen communities, and promote second chances.
Now more than ever, we are proud to assist leaders as they arrive at shared understandings of problems and consensus-based solutions. While bi-partisan agreement can seem elusive in these times, I take pride in our role in nurturing and maintaining the ability of our state and local partners to work across ideological lines to improve their justice systems in meaningful and lasting ways.
Our Presence: Consensus, Reforms and Results
For 20 years, the CSG Justice Center has used data and research-driven practices to improve diversion systems, expand reentry supports, and foster meaningful justice reforms. The results we’ve helped our partners achieve are numerous and significant.
We have prioritized treatment over incarceration for adults and youth with behavioral health conditions by building commitments for change and securing more than $140 million in federal funding for communities. We have also helped establish over 520 diversion programs nationally, including 150 alternatives to traditional law enforcement responses to people in crisis and hundreds of mental health courts. A particular point of pride is the national Stepping Up initiative, which works with more than 550 counties to reduce the number of people in jail with mental illnesses.
In the field of reentry, we’ve helped generate more than half a billion dollars in federal investments to expand reentry services and enable second chances, including growing Second Chance Act funding by $75 million in just over 10 years. We have also helped create more than 1,000 reentry programs and initiatives that have served over 160,000 adults and youth returning to communities and impacted even more through state and local policy changes.
Our impact has also extended to state capitols, where we have supported the passage and implementation of reforms in both Democratic and Republican-led states to halt unsustainable prison growth, including leading the charge to create the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). Our JRI work has facilitated major justice reforms in 31 states and the investment of $245 million in state efforts to control the growth of prison populations, reduce recidivism, and increase the availability of treatment. We have also supported states to reform their juvenile justice systems.
Our Plans: Looking Forward
Today, our work is evolving to meet the real-time challenges and opportunities in the field, including an increasing focus on providing guidance for states and localities to tackle racial inequities. As an organization, we are uniquely positioned to break down complex silos, bringing people together across disciplines and ideologies to facilitate change. Our work not only sparks creativity and consensus in states and communities, but also on Capitol Hill, delivering tangible and significant value to our stakeholders and other partners, while also encouraging them to strive for more.
I look at this anniversary not only as an occasion to celebrate our successes over the past 20 years, but also as an opportunity to take stock of where we are and where we want to go during the next 20 years. And we’re dreaming big. We’ve set concrete and ambitious future milestones, including helping states scale reentry supports, positioning communities to greatly expand diversion and crisis supports for people with behavioral health needs, expanding front-end diversion for juveniles, removing barriers for occupational licensing, and ensuring that relevant, up-to-date data analyses are publicly available to inform criminal justice policy decisions nationally.
Additionally, one of our main goals is to center racial equity in all of our projects and programs, including training our own staff to advance this important work. To address the woeful overrepresentation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, we must have honest conversations about what the data show us and pursue consensus-based solutions with creativity, persistence, bravery, and hopefulness. Our staff have the capacity and drive to ensure the CSG Justice Center will continue to not only help states and communities improve their justice programs, but also shape the future of justice policy in the United States. I am so excited to see what we will accomplish in the next 20 years.
Our People: Celebrating the Staff and Partners Who Make this Anniversary Possible
The CSG Justice Center is the sum of our people—our dedicated board and staff who are exceptionally gifted and committed to their work. Our Advisory Board represents a cross-section of leaders who shape criminal justice policy across the entire United States, and their leadership in shaping our policies and priorities is invaluable. Our staff are the other engine of our success; their expertise and dedication to their work is truly inspiring. I am so proud to work for an organization filled with such passionate, hard-working, and enthusiastic individuals who come to work every day wanting to make our justice system more fair, equitable, and efficient.
Ultimately, this anniversary is also a celebration of our members and partners in all 50 states with whom we have worked over the last two decades, and who have helped us impact the lives of millions of Americans. We are so grateful for the trust that state and local leaders have placed in us while we help them achieve their goals, and we look forward to helping them continue to do so for the next 20 years.
Lastly, I want to thank our funders for their generous support. Their commitment to improving our justice and safety systems has made our work possible. We are grateful to the initial group of foundations that supported the Consensus Project alongside the U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services – the van Ameringen Foundation, the Melville Charitable Trust, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Open Society Institute. We are proud that many of these initial private and public funders remain our partners and supporters to this day. We aim to continue to earn your support as we work with you to uphold the best ideals of our justice system.
Throughout the rest of this year, we will be celebrating our anniversary by highlighting the CSG Justice Center’s 20 years of impact, engaging the CSG family, and marking the way forward for the organization. This will include sharing our top projects and publications from the past 20 years, connecting with our members through social media campaigns and other platforms, sharing “fun facts” about our organization that most people do not know, and overall, celebrating the CSG Justice Center’s work. Please make sure to follow along on our social media to ensure you don’t miss any of the activities we have planned.