Looking back at 2021

By Megan Quattlebaum

January 18, 2022

2021 was the year when the pandemic-related challenges of 2020 refused to go quietly. Tragic spikes in homicides across the country, woefully backlogged courts, critical staffing shortages, shuttered services for those who need them most, limits on programming and visits for people who are incarcerated—so much that we’d hoped we were leaving behind stuck around for another year.

But it wasn’t only the hardships that persisted. A national civil rights movement that blossomed in 2020 to demand equal justice for people of color also endured, with advocates continuing to press for change. Our partners in state and local government showed incredible resilience, meeting their ongoing pandemic challenges with courage and creativity.

At The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, we have worked hard to live up to the moment. Throughout 2021, our work provided policymakers with actionable resources and information to improve public safety and strengthen communities. Our Fair Chance Licensing Project provided policymakers with tools to ensure second chances for people who have been involved in the justice system while also addressing critical worker shortages that are hampering economic
growth. Our comprehensive American Rescue Plan guide outlined how state and local leaders can leverage once-in-a-generation federal funding to advance criminal justice goals, and the Expanding First Response toolkit provided communities with practical information about strategies they can use to improve health outcomes and reduce unnecessary reliance on law enforcement.

In 2021, our partners in states and localities increasingly looked to us to provide data-driven and consensus-based approaches to eliminating racial disparities in their criminal justice systems. In Vermont, we presented policymakers with an analysis showing statistically significant racial disparities in who receives an incarceration sentence, particularly for felony property and drug offenses. We also proposed policy changes to address those disparities, all of which were adopted by the state’s Justice Reinvestment II Working Group. And in Montana, we’re supporting judicial branch leaders with an analysis of sentencing and supervision revocation patterns across racial groups. We will suggest ways to improve court
system data collection so the state can conduct more in-depth racial equity analyses in the future.

Within our organization, we’ve made racial equity a top priority. We’ve made a number of changes to our internal policies and practices to make the CSG Justice Center more transparent, fair, and welcoming. We’ve worked with a consultant who helped us have many difficult and essential conversations about race in our workplace, and we’ve grown our capacity to hear and understand one another as a result. To keep this work going, we have formed what we call a Change Team made
up of staff from across our organization who were selected by their colleagues to champion our ongoing evolution.

The sudden and unprecedented challenges of 2020 led to the need for sustained and comprehensive solutions in 2021. As always, the staff and Advisory Board of the CSG Justice Center stepped up to guide us through an uncertain year. We couldn’t have done it without your partnership and support, and we look forward to continuing to work together in 2022.

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Megan Quattlebaum
As director of the CSG Justice Center, Megan Quattlebaum leads a staff of approximately 120 who work across an array of specialties that span the criminal justice continuum to develop research-driven strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities. Before
joining the organization, Megan most recently served as a research scholar in law and the program director of the Justice Collaboratory at the Yale Law School, where she taught as well as developed and oversaw research projects and led the organization’s work on behalf of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. She was also the Senior Liman Fellow in Residence for the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law and served as a lecturer in law at Columbia Law School. Additionally, she has served as a practicing criminal and civil defense attorney with Zuckerman Spaeder LLP in New York and an Arthur Liman Public Interest Fellow and attorney at the Neighborhood Legal Services Association in Pittsburgh. She also clerked for the Hon. Julio M. Fuentes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and her JD from the Yale Law School.
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