Our Team

Michelle HarperVice President for Child and Family Policy

Michelle has 20 years of experience in health and human services research, policy and program operations. Previously she worked at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) where she spent over 10 years overseeing the operations for a number of social services programs and working on Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Texas Women’s Health Program policy. Michelle most recently served as HHSC’s Associate Commissioner for Community Access and Services connecting Texans to social services through partnerships with faith- and community-based organizations. While at HHSC, Michelle also served as the Deputy State Medicaid/CHIP Director for the Office of Policy where she oversaw the state plans, waivers and administrative rules, as well as the analysis and development of program and benefits policy. Michelle also served as a Government Relations Specialist and in several Policy Advisor roles during her tenure at HHSC. Michelle has worked for the Northern California Kaiser Permanente Health Plan analyzing legislation for the Health Plan and Hospitals and leading implementation projects for the Health Plan, the Consumers Union in San Francisco overseeing the Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools’ policy agenda for increasing school-based enrollment in health insurance, and Child Trends, a non-profit research organization in Washington, DC, working on health and human services research projects. Michelle has a bachelor’s degree from the Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Nelson JarrinSenior Director of Government Affairs

Nelson Jarrin is an attorney with an extensive background at the Texas Capitol. In his role with MMHPI, Nelson oversees legislative policy development and works with stakeholders, state legislative leaders, and key government officials to effect change that will have a positive impact on the delivery of mental health services in Texas.

Nelson previously served as the Legislative Director and General Counsel for Texas State Senator Charles Schwertner, where he managed the Senator’s legislative agenda and supervised all legislative activities of the office. There, he specialized in health-related legislation, Senate Finance Article II, and issues pending before the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services and the Senate Committee on Finance. During the 2014-2015 cycle, Nelson oversaw the Sunset Advisory Commission process for Senator Schwertner, which included a review of all state health agencies.

Prior to joining Senator Schwertner’s team, Nelson served as an attorney at the Texas Legislative Council, where he drafted legislation and provided legal advice for the members of the Texas Legislature. During his time at the Legislative Council, he drafted over 800 bills and amendments in the areas of health law, hospital law, occupational regulation, and criminal law.

Nelson received his J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Notre Dame Law School. During his time at Notre Dame, he served as the President of the Hispanic Law Students Association. He received a B.S. in Economics, summa cum laude, from Texas A&M University.

Calvonah JenkinsSmart Justice Project Assistant

Calvonah began her career with the Institute as a Smart Justice intern in 2017 and continued in that role through the beginning of 2018. During her time as an intern, she created supporting materials for mental health, behavioral health, and criminal justice collaborates, provided research support for legislative interim study charges, and supported implementation of the Dallas County Caruth Smart Justice Project by developing technical assistance materials and providing data analysis.

Prior to her internship, Calvonah actively participated in student organizations and worked in various departments at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD). As a Research Assistant in the Criminology Department, Calvonah collected qualitative data to contribute to the first complete and standardized database of school shootings in the United States. Calvonah simultaneously served as President of both the Black Student Alliance and UTD’s chapter of the National Criminal Justice Honor Society (Alpha Phi Sigma). She was a distinguished panelist for the university’s Student State of Diversity and worked alongside other student leaders to develop and host the University’s first Community Conversations, an event featuring an interactive panel of criminal-justice officials aimed to educate students and encourage open dialogue about police-community relations.  In recognition of her many contributions, Calvonah received the Leadership, Service and Academic Excellence Award from UTD’s Director of Multicultural Affairs.

Calvonah holds a Bachelor of Arts (Magna Cum Laude) and Master of Science Degree in Criminology. As a Smart Justice Project Assistant, Calvonah will continue to support work across the state aimed at reducing unnecessary justice involvement for persons living with behavioral healthcare needs.

Amanda Mathias, PhDSenior Director of Innovation

Dr. Mathias holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy, and is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional counselor. With nearly 20 years of experience in both community social services and community mental health, she has served in various clinical and administrative capacities throughout her career. Her service throughout Texas has centered on the indigent, homeless, and underserved populations. In her clinical and programmatic development opportunities, Dr. Mathias has applied her focus to individuals living with serious mental illness, co-occurring substance abuse disorders, and physical medical conditions through evidence-based and innovative care. She has served, directed and led a range of community-based programs, including an innovative Super Utilizer project, homeless services programs, juvenile and adult forensic treatment and assessment, as well as provided the operational and clinical oversight for an inpatient mentally ill offenders rehabilitation center. Her concentration in program development has been in integrated, trauma informed, person centered treatment models while developing supervision/leadership models supporting the clinicians of these highly intense assertive treatment projects.

Dr. Mathias will be applying her expertise to transforming the assertive community treatment model in Texas as well as providing assessment and clinical implementation strategy to improving the local mental health systems. She looks forward to contributing to policy research that will evolve and expand the mental health care systems of Texas to serve all those in need.

Dawn McKeehanSmart Justice Project Manager

Dawn McKeehan joined the Policy Institute with extensive experience in mental health among those involved in the criminal justice system. Dawn served in a number of impressive capacities at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, including Parole Officer, for which she supervised caseloads of 75 – 120 offenders including sex offenders, super intensive supervision (GPS and electronic monitoring), and the mentally ill. During her tenure with Texas Correctional Office on Offender with Medical and Mental Impairments (TCOOMMI), as a Program Specialist she provided contractual oversight to the 38 Local Mental Health Authorities throughout Texas. As their Continuity of Care Supervisor she facilitated and linked newly paroled offenders with special care needs to services in the community. In her final position there as Manager, she led a team of Program Specialists, facilitated Special Needs Offenders training to both juvenile and adult criminal justice partners, and worked on reviewing, revising and implementing new legislation. While proudly serving in the United States Air Force Dawn received her Master of Arts in Counseling from Webster University, and her Bachelor’s of Science in Management/Human Resources from Park University. Dawn received recognition for Academic Achievement graduating the top of her class in the Parole Academy. Further honors include Parole Officer of the Year (Governor’s Award), and Presidents Volunteer Service Award for the 4,000 plus hours Dawn served as a volunteer Victim Services Counselor with the Austin Police Department.

Phil RitterChief Operating Officer

Phil Ritter joined the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute in May 2014, where he oversees the programs, staff and operations of the Institute.

Prior to joining the Institute, Phil served as Executive Vice President for Government and Stakeholder Affairs at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, where he directed the airport’s government relations, communications, community relations and board support activities. Before joining the airport, Phil held the position of Senior Vice President, Public Affairs with Texas Instruments Incorporated, where he was a member of the corporate Strategy Leadership Team with global responsibility for government affairs, community relations and corporate political activities. Prior to joining Texas Instruments, he served on the staff of the Texas Senate Jurisprudence Committee and as an attorney with Sun Exploration and Production Company in Dallas.

Phil’s philanthropic and community involvement is extensive. He currently serves as Chairman of the Development Board of the University of Texas at Dallas and was a member of the Board of Governors of the Dallas Symphony Association. Phil served as Campaign Chair and Chairman of the Board for the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and in 2004 he led a successful campaign to secure voter approval for $450 million in real estate purchases and facility construction for the Dallas County Community College District. As a member of the Board of Governors of The Dallas Foundation, Phil chaired the Advisory Board for the $12 million Texas Resources for Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment (TRIAD) Fund.

Phil earned an undergraduate degree with honors in Urban Studies and a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Maryland, and a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is admitted to the practice of law in Maryland and Texas.

Sam ShoreSenior Director of State-Local Collaboration

Sam Shore, MSW, focuses his consultations on creating recovery- and resiliency-oriented systems of care in publically funded settings at the state and local levels. Sam holds a Masters in Social Work from The University of Texas at Austin and is licensed in Texas. He has 35 years of experience in the field of mental health services and policy. Sam has served in several leadership positions in his career and has acquired extensive experience in public mental health services strategic planning, policy development, operations, and evaluation. In his career in the Texas mental health system, Mr. Shore held positions in community mental health, state hospital psychiatric inpatient services, and the state office. Sam served as the project director for several successful SAMHSA grant projects, including the Mental Health Transformation grant, which allowed the state to work with community collaboratives to build a strong foundation of recovery-oriented systems of care for people with serious mental illness and children with severe emotional disturbance. He also served as the state director of mental health services for veterans and their families, and project director of a jail diversion and trauma recovery grant. The jail diversion grant focused on developing state and local policies and practices to benefit veterans and their families. Sam has special interests and experience in self-directed care, integration of physical and behavioral health systems, and trauma-informed care.

Jacqualene Stephens, PhDVice President of Systems Transformation

Dr. Jacqualene Stephens, Ph.D., LMFT, joins the Meadows Mental Health Policy team in July 2017. Dr. Stephens is a clinical psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with over 25 years of experience in both clinical and administrative roles. Her clinical career focused on ensuring access to mental health services for low-income individuals and historically underserved minority communities. Dr. Stephens will initially be focused on transforming the Dallas justice system to better identify, assess and divert persons with mental illness from the justice system. Additionally, she will assist and support communities throughout the State with developing and improving their local mental health system.

She joins the Institute after having served more than twenty years as the Director of Behavioral Health and Social Services at Parkland Health & Hospital System where she was responsible for a full range of mental health and psychosocial services in a network of primary care clinics, homeless programs and women’s clinics that served a low income, culturally diverse patient population. Dr. Stephens also took the lead on innovative projects such as Shared Medical Appointments, Intensive Case Management of High Risk patients and Telemedicine. In addition to her clinical expertise in the area of integration of behavioral health and primary care, which she believes is essential, Dr. Stephens is also skilled in organizational consultation, executive coaching and cultural competency.

Dr. Stephens has been consultant to the Dallas Cowboys Football Team since 2004, working with players on mental health and family issues and also works with NBA teams and other athletes in the same capacity. She is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, in the departments of Clinical Psychology and Rehabilitation Counseling Psychology.

Dr. Stephens has been the recipient of multiple awards including the CEO Award from Parkland Health & Hospital System, Distinguished Psychologist of the Year from the Dallas Psychological Association, the Prism Clinician Award from the Mental Health Association of Greater Dallas and was named Outstanding Alumni from the University of North Texas. For Dr. Stephens “shifting how we as a state think about mental health and ensuring it is seen as essential” is her passion and she is excited to be able to do so as part of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute.

Ron StretcherSenior Director of Systems Management

Ron Stretcher brings over 30 years of experience in the social, health and judicial services field to MMHPI. Ron recently retired after 26 years with Dallas County, serving the last eleven years as criminal justice director. Ron was instrumental in lowering and stabilizing the jail population, improving pre-trial release services and expanding jail diversion for special populations. Ron also served 10 years as deputy director of the Dallas County Juvenile Department where he developed and implemented family preservation programs, a charter school for local juvenile facilities, and an alternative education program for students expelled from school. Ron also managed several grant programs for Dallas County, including the Ryan White HIV Services and related programs. Prior to joining Dallas County, Ron worked for the Texas Department of Human Services (now part of the state HHSC) in the income assistance division (the former Food Stamps and AFDC programs).

Ron Stretcher represented the Dallas County Commissioners Court on the Board of Directors of the North Texas Behavioral Health Authority, and was chairman of the board during the transition from managed care to a community center model of providing services. Ron was a founding member of the Dallas County Behavioral Health Leadership Team, which coordinates behavioral health services. Ron also founded the Texas Criminal Justice Planners Executive Forum and is a past chair of the North Central Texas Council of Governments Policy Development Committee.

Jessy TylerSenior Director for Justice Research

Jessy has over a decade of experience in Texas criminal justice policy, with an extensive background in data analysis and visualization and policymaking. Prior to joining the Institute, she worked at the Council of State Governments Justice Center (JC). At JC, she worked on state and county level projects, specializing in Texas based recidivism and indigent defense assessment and analysis. She created and managed the Five County Recidivism project after authoring a proxy risk assessment, so counties could have reliable intra and inter-county recidivism comparisons to guide policy making at the pretrial and reentry points. The discoveries from this project were integrated in the key measures of the Stepping Up Initiative, a national initiative to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jail. She was also the lead analyst on the Harris County Public Defender assessment report, which lead to positions and presentations at state and national indigent defense data collection and measurement options.

Prior to JC, Jessy was the senior research analyst at the Office of Court Administration, a consultant with MGT of America, and on the research staff at Texas Workforce Commission where she tracked employment outcomes for participants in Project RIO (Re-Integration of Offenders). Jessy received her bachelor’s degree from University of Texas at Austin, her Master of Public Policy from the College of William and Mary, and her Master of Arts in Political Science from the University of Houston.

B.J. WagnerSenior Director of Smart Justice and Adult Policy

B. J. Wagner, MS, joined the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute in the Fall of 2015. In her role with MMHPI she will lead the Policy Institute’s Smart Justice work assisting communities across Texas transform systems to increase prevention and intervention services and reduce justice involvement for special populations.

B. J. began her career in law enforcement as a county jailer and later as a law enforcement officer in North East and Western Texas. In response to the increasing number of contacts with persons with mental illness she experienced as a law enforcement officer she chose to return to graduate school and completed studies in clinical neuropsychology and counseling psychology at Texas A&M and began working in community mental health clinics. She continued consulting with the field of law enforcement on best practices as she provided services to clientele through local mental health authorities. B. J. has developed curriculum for disciplines across the criminal justice system on mental health awareness, symptom recognition and verbal de-escalation techniques.

B.J. worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) where she developed front end diversion and continuity of care systems for offenders with special care needs and guided Medicaid implementation for limited populations within the State’s prison systems. While at TDCJ, B.J. worked closely with the Department of State Health Services to redesign the TRAG assessment to include criminogenic risk factors to ensure all persons being assessed in the public mental health system also had criminogenic needs addressed. In 2015, after serving as Deputy Director for the Reentry and Integration Division at TDCJ, B. J. joined the Texas Veterans Commission during the regular legislative session. She worked closely with governmental relations analyzing proposed legislation and advising on emerging trends and state and local initiatives to address the needs of trauma affected veterans at risk of justice involvement.

B.J. received recognition from the Texas Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council for contributions to elevating awareness of prevention and care needs for Texans living with brain injury. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Qualitative Criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Senior Fellows

David BrownCivic Leader, Author

David Brown is a nationally recognized expert on security, law enforcement and public safety in the inner city. He is the former and longest tenured (since the 1960s) police chief of Dallas, the nation’s ninth largest city. Brown currently serves as a contributor for ABC News where he provides on-air perspective on live security events and news impacting the country.

An active participant in causes impacting the Dallas community, Brown joined the board of Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and serves as a Senior Fellow. He also has been named senior advisor to The Rainwater Charitable Foundation, which focuses on grant giving to under-privileged and formerly incarcerated children.
Brown leads from an authentically grounded place of duty and service borne out of commitment to his hometown. Called to serve as an officer based on his upbringing in the inner city, Brown worked his way up through the Dallas police force onto the department’s SWAT team, which he led and served on for seven years (1996-2003.)
When Brown became deputy chief in 2003, Dallas had led the country in violent crimes for six years running. Working side-by-side with (retired) Chief David Kunkle, Brown created impact via accountability among the 3,500+ sworn officers comprising the force. Brown personally led and managed the change initiative, meeting weekly and daily with officers to establish new performance measures. The seven-year change effort led to the most significant reduction in crime in the city’s history, increased diversity and education levels within the department’s managerial ranks, and established clearer performance measures, and advancement and succession criteria.

Brown is perhaps best known for his steady leadership during the worst police shooting in the nation’s history (July 2016.) Direct challenges to protestors, combined with heartfelt commitment to surviving families of the fallen (five) and wounded (nine) officers, will remain etched in the minds and hearts of those impacted by the tragedy. Following the shooting, a news outlet called Brown “America’s chief who comforted a nation.”

Brown’s community-based approach has been recognized as a model for how to enforce laws and police the inner city. David is frequently invited to speak to groups both locally and across the country, including recent engagements at the Bank of America Senior Leadership Meeting, the United Talent Artists Executive Retreat, and the Southwest Airlines Power of Inclusion Meeting. David has been recognized locally in the Dallas community and received both the Nancy Lieberman Charities Trailblazer Award, and the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award, which was presented to Brown by the Maguire Ethics Center at Southern Methodist University (SMU.)

In June, 2017 Brown released Called to Rise: A Life in Faithful Service to the Community That Raised Me, which chronicles his life and professional experiences via personal memoirs.

Brown earned an MBA at Amberton University, Garland, TX (2001) and a bachelor of arts (B.A.) from Dallas Baptist University (1999.) He earlier attended the University of Texas (1979-1983) but left to start what would become a 33-year career in law enforcement.

David and his wife, Cedonia, reside in Dallas with their 10-year-old daughter. When Brown isn’t working or thinking through security issues, he likes to exercise, play golf, travel and spend time with his grandson.

Tony Fabelo, PhDSenior Fellow for Justice Policy

Dr. Tony Fabelo is the Institute’s full-time, Austin-based Senior Fellow for Justice Policy. In this role Dr. Fabelo works with the Institute’s Smart Justice team providing strategic guidance and growing our capacity for local system assessment and system-wide reform. Fabelo was the executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council from 1991-2003. Before that, he served in other capacities assisting, since 1984, five Texas governors and 17 regular biennial Texas legislatures. In recent years he has worked on correctional system reforms in Texas, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana as part of the Justice Reinvestment initiative of the center. He served in 2010-2016 in the US Department of Justice Science Advisory Board. In early 2012 he was appointed to a prestigious panel of the National Academy of Sciences that issued in 2014 a national report on the consequences of high incarceration rates. He was one of the authors of Breaking School Rules, a landmark examination of school discipline policies in Texas that set in motion a national examination of this issue. In 2015 he completed the most comprehensive ever data-driven examination of the Texas juvenile justice system and was the main author of the related report, Closer to Home. In 2017 he assisted the Texas Governor’s Office Criminal Justice Division in the design and implementation of a statewide strategy to combat child sex trafficking. Most recently, he served as the deputy director of the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments. Among other recognitions, his career-long work with the Texas District and County Attorney Association earned him in 2015 the organization’s award for distinguished service to the association and the profession. Fabelo holds a doctorate in government from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Honorable John J. Specia, Jr.

Judge Specia’s career has been dedicated to public service for more than three decades and is defined by his commitment to children and preventing child abuse. He provided leadership in establishing the Texas Supreme Court Children’s Commission and forming Child Protection Courts throughout the state. Judge Specia further brought his experience and vision to the Texas judiciary as the first Jurist in Residence with the Children’s Commission in 2009.
Judge Specia established both the Bexar County Children’s Court, which provides specialized services for children, and also the Family Drug Treatment Court, which handled Child Protective Services cases and became a model for the state. He was vice-chair of the Supreme Court’s Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth, and Families and chair of the Supreme Court Task Force on Foster Care. Judge Specia served as District Judge of the 225th District Court in San Antonio for eighteen years (1988-2006) and was the administrative judge for Bexar County district courts for four of those years. He also served as Master of the 289th Family and Juvenile District Court (1985-1988). Commissioner Specia was one of the state’s first child welfare attorneys, serving as a regional attorney for the former Texas Department of Human Services (1980-1985), and he was a family law attorney in private practice before becoming a district judge.

In July 2016, the Honorable John J. Specia, Jr. resumed his Mediation, Arbitration and Private Judging Practice at Plunkett, Griesenbeck & Mimari, Inc. (formerly Plunkett & Griesenbeck, Inc.) Judge Specia practiced at Plunkett & Griesenbeck, Inc. from 2007 to 2012, where he conducted over 500 mediations and arbitrations. In 2012 Governor Rick Perry appointed Judge Specia as Commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. He served in that capacity until May 31, 2016. Judge Specia spearheaded an overhaul of Child Protective Services, developed system enhancements, and significantly expanded the child abuse and neglect prevention and early intervention program. Under his leadership, Texas became a national leader in child welfare transformation efforts and research into child abuse and neglect fatalities.