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Reflections: It’s About Relationships and Community

If I could describe my summer in one word it would be “reflective.” My husband turned fifty in March.  My mom reached eighty-years in June. Our son graduated from high school in May and is heading to college in two weeks. My husband and I will celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in November.

Along with the general thoughts about where the time has gone and all the lovely reminiscing about fun family times and standout moments, I find myself pondering what I’d like the future to be for myself and family.  This examination of life lessons, good and not so good times, inevitably carries over into my work life. As I consider my recent work with JLWOP and county justice systems investing in best practices, I keep coming back to a few fundamentals which I believe should guide our future work.

  • Everything, good, bad, and in between starts and ends in communities. Personal relationships, family, friends, peers; relationships with institutions like schools and churches matter, maybe more than anything else. We have plenty of evidence that traumatic early life experiences elevate risk for poor outcomes in physical, mental and behavioral health among other critical areas. Therefore:
    • Our priorities and our resources should be laser-focused on prevention; driving down the numbers of people, particularly in disadvantaged communities, who have Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)  Eliminating risk factors increases individual chances for success and makes communities safer by preventing victimization.
    • Prevention alone isn’t enough. All people need opportunities to learn, grow, develop relationships and have strong communities of support.  Investments in schools: increasing graduation rates, decreasing serious behavioral infractions that result in out of school suspension, providing strong technical skill training, building relationships with employers, having strong behavioral health systems, continuing work to ensure access to safe, affordable housing are all worthy targets.
  • There are numerous national initiatives, big name players, big money players, focusing on criminal justice reform including pretrial and probation at the front-end, jail and especially prison reform, and parole supervision changes. There is broad consensus that policies such as mandatory minimums which contributed to mass incarceration failed to meet their goals and should be eliminated and surely, they should be; however, I think more than “reimagining prison,” we need to reimagine a just society as I’ve written about previously, especially the idea of community .  The footprint of the justice system needs to be smaller, much smaller and changes to current laws and policies can and are helping with that.  But going forward, the footprint of community, vital, fair, places of opportunity needs to grow,  This growth must be fueled by partnership, action, an infusion of expertise (big name players) and resources (big money players).
  • Our justice system has broken what I consider a fundamental principle – DO NO HARM – in big and small ways, over a long period of time and this harm has been unequally borne by disadvantaged minority communities. Recognizing this publicly and saying we can and will do better is but a first step. While there is momentum now to unravel policies and practices such as incarcerating people pre-trial, barring those with certain offense convictions from occupations and imposing supervision conditions which are impossible to comply with, we need more real change and at an accelerated pace. Too often, we celebrate bi-partisan supported, unanimous passage of legislation as proof of our collective seriousness about doing better, but the “much ado” amounts to minimal impact on community safety.  This is because many such pieces of legislation at the state and federal level do not tackle tough, controversial populations such as violent or sex offenders.  Most people have no problem focusing on “low risk, non-violent offenders,” for lesser sanctions and as such it doesn’t take much courage to vote for legislation targeting them.  But we’ve done this for so long now that the “cherry trees” have been picked clean. It takes courage and skill to focus on the inner rings of the target:  higher risk offenders, including those with “violent” and sex convictions because 1. they are the bulk of prison populations; 2. Just about all will return to communities 3. The greatest possibilities for significant risk reduction are with this group.  We have science to guide us in how to do this effectively and efficiently.

My summer of reflection has led me to want to take bolder steps focusing more time, thought, energy and action on the inner target rings where the need is great, the work is challenging and the potential for impact high.

  • Skills & Expertise

    • Expert Witness in prison adjustment, determining risk for reoffense and offender reentry.
    • Expert witness in Juvenile Lifer Without Possibility of Parole (JLWOP) resentencing.
    • Public Policy Analyses
    • Criminal Justice Research and Evaluation
    • Data Collection, Analyses and Presentation
    • Grant Writing and Management
    • Public Administration
    • Strategic Planning
    • Program Development and Monitoring
    • Public Speaking
    • Legislative Testimony
    • Leading Collaborative Teams
    • Training and Development
    • Budget Preparation