May 14, 2021

Transforming Justice Image

Multnomah County’s Transforming Justice initiative, spearheaded by the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC), embarked on its next stage of work Monday, May 10, as it brought together a newly formed steering committee for the first time.

Transforming Justice is an effort that grew out of the January 2020 What Works in Public Safety Conference, which brought together local and national experts from healthcare, human services and the judiciary, as well as law enforcement, defense attorneys, community providers, victims’ rights advocates and representatives from county and city government. There, participants began envisioning a wholly transformed public safety system that is adequately equipped to respond to behavior rooted in social problems, such as racism and poverty, while ensuring meaningful participation of people impacted by the legal system. 

The ultimate outcome of this initiative is a fully realized vision of the criminal legal system that will lead to a strategic plan across the public safety systems that:

  • Leads with race and and prioritize interventions, policies, and budgeting for Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC) communities;

  • Focuses on shrinking the current criminal legal system footprint, and grow health, housing, and treatment responses; and 

  • Increases restorative approaches that focus on healing, harm reduction, and restoration.

A core Transforming Justice working group made up of experts in behavioral health, housing, and public safety has been meeting weekly to explore strategies that grow health and housing responses and shrink the legal system footprint. The newly launched steering committee will be critical to turning those discussions into action.

“After 18 months of talking and planning, today represents the next stage of the Transforming Justice initiative. While we’ll continue to dialogue and plan, we’ll also have an eye towards implementing those plans, investing our resources and changing policy,” said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, who also serves as LPSCC co-chair, during her welcoming remarks.

“It’s time for us to harness the good work that’s been done and use it to develop innovative approaches that we then actually put into practice. We can’t transform anything through talk; we can through action and implementation, and I hope that this steering committee is ready to do that work.”

The Steering Committee is composed of approximately 35 people who influence or have been affected by the criminal legal system, including local elected officials and executives who administer criminal legal, housing and health systems; victims of crime; victim services providers; representatives from the advocacy community; and individuals with lived experience in justice and behavioral health systems. Unlike the working group, which has laid the conceptual and strategic groundwork for the work ahead, the steering committee carries decision-making authority that will push the initiative ahead. 

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who is LPSCC’s other co-chair, thanked the attendees for joining “a governmental process that promises to deliver radical transformation. And honestly, you are absolutely the right people to help us make that happen.”

“I think we have the sense of community at our back and they’re demanding transformation: not tinkering, not work groups and thought groups, but actual transformation,” she continued. “I look forward to being part of that transformation with each of you.”

“While the members of this steering committee may come from different places, I’m so grateful, and honestly, I’m really excited, that we’ve all joined up to journey to the same destination: a transformed system of public safety and justice in our community,” Chair Kafoury added.

In addition to approving decisions, the steering committee will also provide guidance and high-level input for the project. 

LPSCC Executive Director Abbey Stamp introduced the committee to Territory, the consulting firm LPSCC tapped last October to facilitate the initiative, capture the public safety expertise that exists among the stakeholders participating in this effort and leverage it into an actionable plan. She described Territory as “our shepherds to help us get from Point A to Point B in a unique and thoughtful way.”

Parker Lee, a Territory managing partner, provided attendees with further details regarding the roles and responsibilities of the steering committee. Among the expectations for the committee are:

  • Review progress, provide feedback, give approvals, and sign off on deliverables

  • Make recommendations for how to operationalize the vision

  • Unblock work and provide resources as necessary

  • Serve as a knowledgeable advocate for the project

  • Communicate the purpose and status of the project's progress to the community

Territory facilitators Jeremy Vero-Haub and Natalie Born both emphasized that one of the guiding principles for the Transforming Justice is to engage with people who can impact, or are impacted by, the legal system. This principle speaks to the necessity of ensuring people with lived experience in the criminal legal system are key co-participants in the effort. 

Several steering committee members shared comments underscoring the importance of being clear about the lived experience that need to be represented in the work, as well as their optimism that the project and the committee would honor that principle. Other participants expressed their excitement and hopes for the work of the steering committee and the Transforming Justice initiative. 

Chair Kafoury noted that the work ahead is especially critical after the events of the past year.

“We launched this effort back in 2020... back before the pandemic and before things really changed. But the need for this work didn’t stop and if anything the work has gotten more visible and urgent,” she said. 

Stamp thanked the group for joining the introductory meeting. The date of the next Transforming Justice Steering Committee meeting has yet to be set, but the group is slated to meet at least quarterly and up to every other month. 

Recordings of all Transforming Justice Steering Committee meetings will be posted here.