Carrie Pettus, Criminal Justice Researcher and Reformer, Will Chair Grand Challenges for Social Work Board
(Special Announcement – February 17, 2023)
Carrie Pettus, PhD, a leading authority on the use of data to steer reforms in the criminal justice system, will be the next chair of the Grand Challenges for Social Work Leadership Board.
The 30-member board oversees the programs and helps set the direction of the Grand Challenges for Social Work (GCSW), a groundbreaking effort that champions the role of science in powering progress on 13 of the most potent societal challenges of our time.
Pettus will take the helm of the Leadership Board and its executive committee in January 2024. She will succeed Richard Barth, PhD, a professor and past president of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, who has been chair or co-chair since 2016.
Pettus, who began her service as chair-elect at the Grand Challenges Leadership Board meeting in Phoenix in January, will focus her related activities on development and governance. “I am more than thrilled that Carrie has enthusiastically agreed to be the next chair of the Grand Challenges,” says Barth. “Her stellar work as a network lead for the Grand Challenge to Promote Smart Decarceration, her exceptional applied research talent and commitment, and her many connections across the academic and foundation worlds will help make her a fearsome chair.”
Pettus shares that “My vision is to help increase the impact of the Grand Challenges by enhancing capacity and securing more resources for all 13 challenges and bringing more visibility to our policy contributions and collaboration. Central to that effort is highlighting the themes at the core of many if not all of the Grand Challenges, such as economic, racial, gender, disability and behavioral health disparities and barriers to inclusivity and belongingness.”
Last year Pettus became a principal at Justice Systems Partners, a nonprofit that conducts research to help criminal and juvenile legal systems become more equitable, effective, and humane. She previously founded and led the Institute for Justice Research and Development at Florida State University. And since the GCSW was launched in 2016 Pettus has been a network co-leader of the Grand Challenge to Promote Smart Decarceration. Transforming the legal and justice systems in the United States is one of the nation’s 13 Grand Challenges and the GCSW believes a proactive, comprehensive, evidence-based “smart decarceration” strategy will dramatically reduce the prison population and enable the nation to embrace a more effective and just approach to public safety.
“It’s been tremendously rewarding to be a part of the phenomenal growth of students and faculty committed to data-driven advocacy for a better criminal justice system,” Pettus said. “As a result, social workers have been major contributors to the most recent efforts to reduce incarceration rates and the continued reckoning with police brutality and pretrial treatment.”
Pettus spent seven years on the faculty of Washington University in St. Louis after completing her doctorate in social work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (She also has a master’s degree in social work and bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas.) Before her career in academia, she was a social worker in mental health and corrections settings. She traces her commitment to criminal justice reform back three decades, when she was in high school in her native Arkansas and first understood “the inhumanness of an incarceration system destined for failure.”
“Tackling that challenge has been my life’s mission ever since,” Pettus says. “My new mission in this chair role is to build capacity to a point where all of the GCSW’s networks can move the needle and transform the narrative and work on their topics.”