Vera Names Christopher Weiss Director of Substance Use and Mental Health Program

NEW YORK – The Vera Institute of Justice has named Christopher Weiss director of its Substance Use and Mental Health Program (SUMH). Weiss brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the position, having designed and managed research projects on numerous criminal justice, public policy, and social issues during his more-than 20-year career.

Launched in 2006, SUMH works with governments and community organizations at the intersection of public health and the justice system. By conducting applied research and providing technical assistance, SUMH helps develop evidence-based programs and policies that reduce system involvement for people with substance use and mental health needs, increase their access to treatment, and improve their stability in the community.

Ongoing SUMH projects include the recently-launched Justice Reform for Healthy Communities initiative, a soon-to-be published study of the impact of the Rockefeller drug law reforms, and Justice and Health Connect, an online knowledge bank created to foster information-sharing between behavioral health and justice systems.

The need for this work has never been greater, as there are three times as many people with serious mental illness in jails and prisons than in hospitals, and about two-thirds of people in prison report regular drug use. The justice system is ill-equipped to provide behavioral health services, and individuals often fail to get the help they need.

Weiss joins SUMH at a time when new opportunities are emerging—particularly given the Affordable Care Act’s mental health and substance use treatment mandates—to expand and improve treatment options and tackle the health implications of mass incarceration, both in prisons and communities.

“The changing healthcare landscape, combined with growing bipartisan momentum for justice system reform, makes SUMH’s mission more important than ever,” Vera President Nicholas Turner said. “We have a responsibility to rethink and reduce our reliance on the justice system to handle this vulnerable population, and I am confident that Chris brings the leadership and vision necessary to advance this program’s work.”
“Too often, people with substance use or mental health issues are locked away in jails and prisons, out of sight from the public but suffering greatly,” Weiss said. “I am honored to join a team of incredible colleagues who share my commitment to providing these individuals with a different path, one centered on treatment and support instead of system involvement and incarceration.”

Prior to joining Vera, Weiss was a senior research analyst for Langer Research Associates where he analyzed data for a variety of clients, including international non-governmental organizations, nonprofits, and domestic and international media. Before that, he served as a clinical associate professor in New York University’s Department of Sociology, and from 2002 to 2012, he directed multiple Columbia University research projects, including an evaluation of the Rockefeller Drug Laws and studies into the influence of features of the urban environment on obesity.

Weiss earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and mathematics from Trinity University, and a master’s degree in demography and PhD in sociology and demography from the University of Pennsylvania.

Weiss succeeds Jim Parsons, who was named Vera’s vice president and research director in April.