SLC Steering Committee

Arianna Mellinger

Arianna Mellinger

Arianna Mellinger works for a local mental health authority and provides peer support services for The Mobile Crisis Outreach Team (MCOT). She has experienced indirect impact by the criminal judicial system with both parents having been incarcerated at separate times, and later being directly impacted herself, spending time incarcerated in the federal system. She uses her lived experience to connect with youth and adults as they struggle with barriers such as mental health concerns and chemical dependency struggles. Arianna recently graduated from Houston Community College with a certification as a Chemical Dependency Counselor, and she is working towards her bachelor’s in social work. She also holds a Justice Involved Peer Support Specialist Certification, a Recovery Peer Support Specialist, and LCDC-CI. Arianna is passionate about the intersection of youth and the carceral system and different alternatives to incarceration.

Mark A Vasquez

Mark Anthony Vasquez

Mark Anthony Vasquez was raised in the border communities of South Texas and is active in local and regional efforts to resist the over-saturation of law enforcement and the criminalization of marginalized communities on the border. Formerly convicted himself, Mark is determined to cultivate a voice of resistance for the system-impacted and continues to work closely with immigrant and labor justice groups and initiatives committed to the same struggle against border injustice - Border Workers United, ARISE Adelante, the Border Network for Human Rights and Fronteriza Texas. Mark is co-founder of The John Manuel Project, created in 2018 as a family-run organization committed to advocating for those held captive beneath the full weight of the criminal legal system in the Rio Grande Valley.

Veronica Morales

Veronica Morales

Veronica Morales spent 35+ years in the corporate world of banking, information technology, and childhood education. She currently spends her time managing her own rental properties and advocating for social and criminal justice. She volunteers and does service work for mental health care and the addicted. She became familiar with social justice at a young age through family members who were in and out of the mental health and criminal justice systems. Her hope is to inspire a different perspective of how mental health and addiction are related to crime. Her goal is to make a difference in how our society handles these issues by changing legislation. Realizing this monumental task requires the dedication to chip away at one policy at a time, so she keeps her chisel sharpened and ready!

Doug Smith

Doug Smith

Doug Smith is the founding member of the Statewide Leadership Council (SLC); he helped launch the SLC while serving as Senior Policy Analyst for the Texas Center for Justice and Equity, where he worked from 2015 to 2021. Doug currently runs a leadership development and coaching practice, D-Degree Coaching and Training, LLC, focused on building the next generation of justice advocates. Doug graduated magna cum laude from St. Edward’s University in 1994 and earned his MSSW from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000.

Maggie Luna in front of the Texas Capitol

Maggie Luna, JI-RPS

Maggie Luna is a graduate of Anthony Graves Smart Justice Speakers Bureau at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. During Texas’ 2019 legislative session she participated as part of the Women’s Legislative Team, which successfully passed legislation defending the dignity of incarcerated women. Her work led her to become a Hogg Foundation Peer Policy Fellow at the Texas Center for Justice and Equity (TCJE), where she now serves as a Policy Analyst and the Community Outreach Coordinator. Since 2020, Maggie has coordinated the Statewide Leadership Council and advances local and state policies to transform the criminal legal system. Maggie was first arrested in 1996 as a juvenile and began to cycle in and out of the system; her last arrest was in 2017, and she now uses her 20 years of justice system involvement to help address the needs of system-involved women and their families. She serves as a member in multiple organizations and coalitions working to transform youth and adult justice systems to promote safer communities. She believes in elevating the importance of justice for women, as well as speaking with policymakers, judges, and CASA workers about improving safety for children when Child Protective Services in involved. Maggie is interested in expanding the use of certified peers to connect people with recovery-based supports following release from jail or prison, and she holds a Peer Re-Entry Specialist Certification.

Savannah Eldrige

Savannah Eldrige is the founder of Be Frank, Inc., which supports practices that improve indigent defense in appointed counsel systems, advocates for sentence reform, and promotes the legal empowerment of litigants and families. Be Frank, Inc., was formed in veneration of Savannah’s brother Frank. In her effort to aid him through his own appeal process, Savannah recognized that barriers such as lack of procedural knowledge and limited access to legal reference materials can inhibit a defendant’s ability to meet procedural requirements. Since then, she has been committed to lobbying for transparency in judicial practices and creating clearer pathways for post-conviction relief. Savannah is an active member of the Texas Prisons Air Conditioning Advocates, National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and the Women’s Legislative Team, which was formed during Texas’ 2019 legislative session to champion the dignity and rights of incarcerated women. She is a mother of three, has enjoyed a professional career as a nurse for 20 years, and resides in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Lori Mellinger

Lori Mellinger

Lori Mellinger is a women’s reentry expert and prison reform advocate who lives in Central Texas. A former newspaper writer and editor from East Texas, Lori succumbed to a longtime addiction to pills and alcohol and violated her probation in Smith County, Texas. She went on to serve two years of a six-year sentence in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. While in prison, Lori decided to make drastic changes in her life and paroled to a faith-based women’s transitional housing ministry in Abilene, a city she had no tie to. It was at New Beginnings-Big Country (NBBC) that she found her calling: to help women in similar circumstances walk a path to freedom. Lori went on to be the first paid staff at the organization through her grant-writing skills. She left NBBC and moved to the Austin area in 2020 to take a job and build a reentry program for women in and out of TDCJ. She works now as a qualitative interviewer for UT Austin and as a consultant for justice-impacted service organizations in the Central Texas area. Lori believes that relationships are key to successful funding and that passion drives change. She believes that those who have lived experience should always have a seat at the table.

Jennifer Toon

Jennifer Toon

Jennifer Toon is a formerly incarcerated woman with a passion for criminal justice reform. She believes that narrative lies at the heart of effective advocacy. Jennifer was originally adjudicated under Texas determinate sentencing laws as a teenager and spent 27 years of criminal justice involvement as both a juvenile and an adult in the system. For 10 years, Jennifer served as the first female columnist for The Echo, the Texas prison system’s newspaper. Her column “A Woman’s Perspective,” paved the way for future incarcerated female writers to share their views and hone their writing skills. Most recently, Jennifer has been published in The Texas ObserverThe Marshall Project, and The Guardian. She currently lives in Austin and continues to inspire others through her YouTube channel and work. She aspires to bring attention to the often-forgotten voices of other system-impacted women, youth, and people with disabilities.

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition is now the Texas Center for Justice and Equity! Learn More