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CSG's Justice Center helps states improve criminal justice policy, reduce corrections spending

December 2010 ~ Stateline Midwest
Since the 2006 creation of The Council of State Governments Justice Center, about half of the Midwestern states have received assistance from the center in improving criminal justice policy.

The Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. It provides practical, nonpartisan advice and consensus-driven, evidence-based strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities.

The Justice Center specializes in taking on complex issues that involve criminal justice, mental health, and other related policy areas.

The board of directors is made up of state legislators and other policymakers who have extensive expertise in criminal justice issues. Kansas Rep. Pat Colloton currently serves as vice chair. Wisconsin Sen. Lena Taylor and Michigan Sen. Alan Cropsey are also members of the board.

Staff and board members bring together their diverse range of professions and perspectives to ensure that recommended policy reforms are practical and effective.

The Justice Center supports a number of national projects, some of which have led to extensive work in the Midwest.

Focus on mental health and justice
The Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project is an unprecedented national effort to help policymakers, as well as criminal justice and mental health professionals, improve responses to people with mental illnesses who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

The Justice Center is the technical assistance provider for the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program, which forms partnerships between criminal
justice, juvenile justice, mental health treatment and substance abuse systems to improve outcomes in the criminal justice system for people with mental illness.

Two projects completed in the Midwest have served as pilots for national initiatives.

Consensus Project staff worked with local leadership and Rep. Colloton to analyze the jail population in Johnson County, Kan., and to develop customized policy options, including new processes for regional collaboration.

The Consensus Project has worked with policymakers in Illinois to develop training on mental illness for state trial judges. Assistance from the Justice Center was requested by Illinois Supreme Court Appellate Justice Kathryn Zenoff, who is chair of a committee on mental health and the courts. Staffers are working with other judicial leaders, the American Psychiatric Foundation, and the National Judicial College to explore offering this training to interested jurisdictions in 2011.

Justice Reinvestment project
The Justice Reinvestment initiative assists state policymakers in using a data-driven approach to reduce spending on corrections and reinvest savings in strategies that decrease crime. The Justice Center’s experts provide states with comprehensive, independent analyses of their criminal justice data and provide them with practical policy options that can reduce crime and save tax dollars.

The Justice Center has assisted policymakers from 14 states, including Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin. In the past year, the center has undertaken projects in Indiana and Ohio.

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels and judicial and legislative leaders announced the launch of the first comprehensive review of the state’s criminal code and sentencing policies since 1976. State leaders have established a bipartisan, inter-branch committee to work with Justice Center staff using a justice-reinvestment approach.

In Ohio, the Justice Center has been working with state leaders since December 2009. In July, state policymakers and stakeholders reviewed and discussed the Justice Center’s research findings. The Justice Center is currently developing with policymakers a framework to hold offenders accountable, target crime-fighting strategies and strengthen probation supervision.

Improving reentry programs
In 2008, Congress passed, and President Bush signed, the Second Chance Act. The legislation authorized funding to state and local governments, as well as community and faith-based organizations, working to improve outcomes for people returning from prisons, jails and juvenile facilities. The SCA also established the National Reentry Resource Center to deliver technical assistance to SCA grantees and other reentry policymakers and practitioners dedicated to improving public-safety strategies.

Building on CSG’s previous work in reentry, including the 2005 publication of the influential “Report of the Reentry Policy Council,” the Justice Center applied for and received the grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to host the NRRC.

The NRRC’s website (www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org) provides information on reentry policy and practice. The NRRC also publishes a monthly newsletter (subscribe by entering your name and e-mail address on the website’s front page).

The Justice Center’s assistance is made possible through a partnership with the Pew Center on the States and with the financial support of organizations such as the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.