Leader Spotlight – Dr. Tony Fabelo

November 12, 2015 Vashtai Kekich


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Dr. Tony Fabelo is the Director of the Research Division of the Council of State Governments and is helping provide the momentum needed to make necessary changes in the justice system for individuals with mental illness. Working from the Austin office of the Counsel of State Government’s Justice Center, he provides technical assistance to state and local governments to help make more efficient use of state and local taxpayer dollars. The Justice Center serves all states to promote data-driven practices in the justice system and manages major national justice projects with state, federal and foundation funding support. Dr. Fabelo believes it is these data-driven practices that make the most significant strides towards decreasing the prison population by treating those with mental illness.

Dr. Fabelo’s successful career has found him assisting every Texas legislature since 1985 to develop criminal justice policies, including crafting the Justice Reinvestment Initiative adopted by Texas in 2007. In his previous work at the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council he managed the production of over 200 research reports. Throughout his career he has used his highly specialized knowledge and charisma to create community partnership and legislative momentum to reform the justice system. Although he is known for his no-holds-barred, realistic approach to justice reform, he still expresses hope and passion in his belief that local systems can still make smart justice reforms to the benefit of their communities.

For Tony, the groundbreaking laws passed 22 years ago that address the need to identify and divert individuals with mental illness who become justice-involved are finally being addressed at the local level, allowing local systems to link these individuals to community care and decrease recidivism. “I am glad to have a new opportunity to tackle the system and am excited to work with the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. Now we can concentrate on helping people get done what should have been done years ago.”

Tony’s impactful work includes the MMHPI and CSGJC partnership with Bexar County officials to transform the county’s local justice system to achieve the goals of the Smart Justice Initiative. In 2013, the CSGJC team completed a data-driven in-depth review of Bexar County’s pretrial processes and mental health diversion practices. MMHPI/CSGJC worked with county officials to revamp interagency processes to allow for better identification of mentally ill persons at intake at the Central Magistrate Facility (CMAG) and some of these processes are already implemented.

Dr. Fabelo will continue his work in Bexar County partnering with local officials and MMHPI to assist in the implementation and monitoring of outcomes for strategies they have outlined for the county. The goal is to develop Bexar County as a demonstration site for best practices related to the identification and treatment of justice involved mentally ill persons.

If you ask Tony what he is most proud of his immediate answer is “My kids. I have done my part for Texas by raising kids that are good citizens.” But in terms of his work he is most proud of having a clear mindset, realistic approach and good understanding of what he is capable of doing. “The numbers, the data, it is more important than the ideology. Those with the ideological frames are the architects. But architects need good engineers and my job is to be an engineer. To build things based on numbers and data.” We thank Dr. Fabelo for being an engineer to these projects, as they are truly creating positive change in our state and setting an example nationwide.