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Bringing Equity to the Forefront of Local Justice Systems


As a FUSE executive fellow, Debbie Allen worked with the city of St. Louis to help criminal justice stakeholders evolve their local system to become fairer and equitable along the lines of race, gender, socio-economic status, and geography. The city’s criminal justice system comprises federal, state, and local agencies. To allow these agencies to work together under a shared vision and purpose, Debbie helped bring about an ordinance that established a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) as a separate, legal body corporate and politic. That framework then allowed state and local criminal justice agencies to come together to enter into legally binding agreements that respect the legal and constitutional boundaries for sharing criminal justice and behavioral health information and data across the disciplines. 

Debbie is now an executive adviser to the Mayor and the interim executive director of the CJCC. The CJCC is also working to transform the local criminal justice system through data-driven policy and fiscal decisions. This work includes identifying more effective, evidence-based services that support individual behavior change, as well as promoting new justice system policies and practices that better align resources to promote public safety and healthy communities. The overall goal is to provide policymakers greater choice and confidence in the priorities and programs they oversee, thus building trust with the community.

How did the FUSE fellowship impact you?

When I chose to become a FUSE fellow, it was with the intention of taking a sabbatical from direct government work, but it ended up being so much more for me professionally and personally. Working as an executive fellow showed me that it is possible to create change and lasting impact within our government structure from the outside. As a fellow, I took the heat for change, allowing the government agency to let go of long held boundaries, thus making change more acceptable. For example, I was given the time and opportunity to map agencies’ data, roles, and contributions, and then share this information across the community, which helped coalesce diverse stakeholders. I also helped these groups focus on a shared vision, which resulted in greater efficiencies and trust among stakeholders. On a personal note, this experience has given me the confidence to make myself more visible so that others might take my learnings and apply them more broadly.  

What are you working on now?

The CJCC has several projects in play. We are conducting a local criminal justice utilization analysis to reveal opportunities for criminal justice and public health system changes, and to support cross-disciplinary strategic planning and implementation. A goal is to enable justice officials with data to form evidence-based decisions on how justice-involved individuals can be treated in a fair and equitable way across the different justice agencies. For example, is this person a good candidate for drug treatment court? The aggregate data can also be used by policymakers to evaluate whether the system is working as expected. For example, is drug treatment court producing the intended outcomes, such as reducing recidivism?

I’m also working on a pilot for a Medication Consistency Initiative. By having continuous access to the same set of effective medications, justice-involved individuals are more likely to maintain mental wellness and succeed in the transition between the criminal justice system and behavioral health providers. The initiative would establish an agreed upon medication formulary for prescriptions for justice-involved individuals, decrease overall costs of treatment through cooperative purchasing agreements, and promote the reinvestment of savings into school-based health clinics in underserved communities in the city.

What are you hoping to achieve over the next few months?

As CJCC becomes more permanent, I am working to share the bottom-line impact and value of our work.

News and press:

City of St. Louis: Communities of Color Should Not Need to Protest

City of St. Louis: Systemic Change Through a Governance Framework

St. Louis Public Radio: St. Louis’ New Criminal Justice Council Has 1 Goal — Get Everyone to the Table

 

Photo Credit: Kawshar Ahmed on Unsplash