Meet Chris Csonka

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The Foundation has hired a coordinator for a Safety and Justice Challenge project. Chris Csonka will collaborate with local justice officials to reduce the local jail population. The goal is to create an framework where justice system officials can partner to implement reforms across the system, such as measures to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of case processing. The Foundation won a $350,000 Safety + Justice Challenge grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to work in this area.

What are your main goals for the justice project?

I hope to continue and expand upon the great reform work which is already underway in East Baton Rouge as well collaborate with EBR's justice system stakeholders and elected officials to develop and implement innovative programs and processes that will help to make the justice system in East Baton Rouge as safe, fair and equitable as it can be.

What are some of benefits that will come from the reforms?

Initially, a reduction in the total prison population as well as a reduction in prison admissions, which will result in decreases in operating costs of the prison and the police department. Eventually, with the right programs in place, there should be a significant decline in recidivism and in racial and ethnic disparities within the justice system.

Tell us about the projects you did in Ohio and some of the outcomes?

I helped to create a Felony Summons program within Summit County, Ohio, which led to an overall reduction in jail admissions. Now many other counties in Ohio are adopting the same practice. While in Lucas County, Ohio, I managed several reform initiatives that included the creation of a deflection center, where police could take people in crisis so that they could receive services rather than being locked up in jail. I've also worked to create a unified criminal justice information system, court-based diversion program for low-level offenders, coordinated probation practices, and implemented a pre-trial risk assessment tool to ensure that people are incarcerated based on their risk and not on the fact they can't afford to pay bail.

Let’s get this out of the way because people in this football-mad town will want to know. Are you related to NFL Hall of Famer Larry Csonka? If so, how?

Yes, I am, although the older I get the less I get asked. Larry is my second cousin. My father and Larry were cousins who grew up together.

As someone new to town, what are you looking forward to in Baton Rouge? A certain food? A place to see? An event?

I've been told I should not miss JazzFest so I plan to see it. I am already a lover of the food here. I can't get enough gumbo and I am excited to find new foods to fall in love with. I also like to fish, so I plan on exploring all of the various waterways here without getting eaten by an alligator. Full disclosure, my research before moving here consisted of Swamp People marathons.