NCSL - National Conference of State Legislatures

01/17/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/17/2020 02:42

State Engagement With Local Justice: Interview With Alexander Holsinger

By Amanda Essex

Though criminal justice coordinating councils (CJCCs) are generally established at the local level, there are opportunities for state legislatures to encourage and support their work.

States may enact legislation requiring localities to establish these councils. Generally, this type of mandate includes funding in order to support the work of the council and cover costs associated with staffing. Unfunded mandates, such as requiring the development of these councils without financial support, are generally viewed unfavorably.

Pilot projects allowing localities to establish a CJCC and provide financial support for test sites to determine whether such councils may be successful in the state can also be authorized by the state legislature.

State legislators can also utilize their role as community leaders to bring together the appropriate individuals to consider topics related to local justice systems and encourage the development of appropriate policy.

Alexander Holsinger, criminal justice coordinator, Criminal Justice Advisory Council, Johnson County, Kan.

What is your background and how did you end up being involved with your CJCC?

For 19 years I served on the faculty at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, teaching courses and doing research as a tenured professor in the Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology. During that same period of time, I established long-term relationships with several individuals within Johnson County's criminal justice system and larger government which led to several training and research projects. While I currently coordinate our Criminal Justice Advisory Council (what we call our CJCC), I've been involved with them in various ways for many years.

When and how was your CJCC created? What was the initial intent and/or goal of the council?

The CJAC was established in March of 2008, via resolution approved by the Board of County Commissioners. The CJAC was initially created to provide a working forum designed to support communication and collaboration between key criminal justice stakeholder agencies. I should also add that our CJAC has membership and participation that extends past policing, court and correctional agencies, and also involves the county mental health system, the faith community and ex-offender representation, as well.

What are some of the specific goals and efforts of your CJCC?

One of the overarching initiatives that has been a primary focus for some time (and likewise drives a lot of what we do) has been the Stepping Up Initiative. For a long time, we've been trying to find ways in which we can prevent individuals with behavioral health challenges from penetrating the CJ system any further than might be necessary.

How has your state legislature been involved with your CJCC? How can it support your work?

Part of our current strategic plan involves raising our state legislature's awareness of the CJAC's mission and the quality of our work. We often have to confront ways in which state policy (and legislation) greatly impacts our criminal justice (and related) systems. We likewise see the need to bring state legislators into the discussion whenever possible.

What are some of the biggest successes of your CJCC's work? What about the biggest challenges?

Overall, I think the biggest recent success would be the recognition we've received as an 'Innovator County' in the Stepping Up Initiative. The work we began as part of the Stepping Up Initiative was made possible by our very long-standing Justice Information Management System (JIMS) which has likewise made a lot of other important work possible. Another related success can be found via our collaborations with the University of Chicago as well as Notre Dame. Both initiatives are utilizing data in unique ways in order to intervene proactively in the face of behavioral health challenges and avoid crises.

In your efforts, who have you found needs to be at the table for the CJCC to accomplish its goals?

Without question, the broad representation from all the major criminal justice players has been key to the CJAC accomplishing its goals. The council was founded in order to ensure both communication and collaboration. Thankfully our CJAC has willing and enthusiastic participation and support from every part of our CJ system, which likewise includes decision-makers from each agency. Having those who can make definitive decisions that relate to their own agencies is key (e.g., directors, deputy directors, and the like).

This is the fourth in a series of blogs featuring interviews with members of local criminal justice coordinating councils. The first blog is here, the second is here and the third is here. Interviews may have been condensed and were conducted in late 2018 by Amanda Essex, Criminal Justice Program senior policy specialist.

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