Director, Substance Use and Mental Health Program

Location: New York, NY

Department: Substance Use and Mental Health Program

Type: Full Time

Min. Experience: Senior Manager/Supervisor

The Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) seeks an experienced researcher and/or policy expert with a passion for justice to lead its Substance Use and Mental Health Program (SUMH). SUMH uses innovative research methodologies and technical assistance to provide an evidence base for improving policies and programs that impact individuals with substance use and mental health needs who pass through the criminal justice system. Launched in 2006, SUMH works extensively with government and community-based organizations that seek to reduce criminal justice involvement, increase access to treatment, and improve stability in the community for people with behavioral health needs. This is a particularly exciting time for SUMH given the ACA, which will support new opportunities to provide necessary treatment to this vulnerable population.


The Vera Institute of Justice

Vera brings expertise in system change, commitment to research and evidence, and capacity for innovation to its mission to promote justice and fairness and improve lives. Through hypothesis-testing demonstration projects, academic-level research, technical assistance, strategic communications, and policy guidance, Vera works closely with leaders in positions of authority to inform new policy choices and fill gaps in the provision of services.

Vera’s new president has been in place since August 2013 and a new Research Director was appointed in April 2014. With these key leadership positions in place, the organization is in the process of developing a strategic vision for addressing the problems of racial bias, mass incarceration and injustice in the United States. Improving public health and addressing health inequities for people who are involved in justice systems will be a central component of this vision.

Vera’s approach is rooted in its beginnings. It was founded in 1961 by philanthropist and chemical engineer Louis Schweitzer, who established the then-named Vera Foundation in response to concerns about the lengthy and costly detention of largely poor and minority people in New York City’s jails, especially those who were charged with minor crimes and remained in custody only because they lacked the means to make bail. Vera’s first Director Herbert Sturz partnered with the courts to design, operate, and then evaluate the Manhattan Bail Project, which introduced the mechanism of release on recognizance. This groundbreaking innovation changed the way bail and custody decisions are made in American courts and enhanced justice for those entering in the criminal justice system.

Vera’s current work is expansive and includes efforts to help states reduce prison populations; coordination and information sharing between criminal justice and public health systems; development and implementation of assessment tools to reduce juvenile detention and screen for mental health treatment needs; improvement of domestic violence service for people with disabilities; and assistance to police departments to improve relations with communities.


Substance Use and Mental Health Program

Today, Vera is looking for a director to build on SUMH’s considerable strengths including a strong portfolio of ongoing research and technical assistance projects and a group of impressively talented and highly industrious colleagues. The director will guide, challenge and inspire a unique organization to think about how its work on issues at the intersection of public health and the justice system can achieve the greatest impact.

SUMH currently has numerous ongoing studies, including projects in New York City and State, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles. Funding streams are diverse, including federal grants from the National Institute of Justice, the Bureau of Justice Assistance; grants from private foundations; and contracts with city and state government agencies.


Ongoing projects include, but are not limited to:

  • a partnership with New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to enhance the capacity of New York City courts to detect health needs and coordinate services between multiple agencies and health providers;
  • an evaluation of the nation’s first social impact bond, which funds the Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience (ABLE) program to provide services to adolescents in the New York City jail;
  • a mixed methods study of the provision of indigent defense services for defendants with mental health needs;
  • a partnership with criminal justice and public health agencies in Washington D.C. to help identify Medicaid eligible individuals and improve Medicaid enrollment and continuity of healthcare services upon reentry.



Capabilities and Competencies

Reporting directly to the new Vice President and Research Director, the incoming director of SUMH will be a trusted leader within the organization. The SUMH Director’s role can be divided into the following key competencies:


  1. Research and Program Development
  2. Fundraising
  3. Advancing Discourse
  4. Operational Oversight


Research and Program Development. The director is responsible for identifying, developing and implementing ideas for new work, as well as advancing existing projects at the intersection of public health and justice. The director may also integrate his or her own current portfolio of work into the SUMH program.  Projects may include technical assistance, research, or the development of demonstration projects and should reflect SUMH’s strategic vision. The director is also responsible for overseeing a number of ongoing research studies that employ diverse quantitative and qualitative research methods. With support from Vera’s research director, the successful candidate will implement existing studies, design future projects, and write policy and academic publications.  The ideal candidate will have a significant record of published work in their area of research or policy expertise.


Fundraising. The director is responsible for securing project funding including developing and maintaining relationships with private and governmental funders. The ideal candidate will have a record of success winning, managing, and fulfilling government and philanthropic research grants and contracts.


Advancing Discourse. The director is responsible for developing, enhancing and promoting SUMH’s profile among policymakers, practitioners, academics, advocates, the media and other interested parties.  He or she is responsible for advancing SUMH as an expert resource and serving as an expert him- or herself.  The director will work closely with the director of communications and the director of Vera’s Washington, DC, office to advance and strategically publicize – through blogs, op-eds, legislative and executive branch briefings, speaking engagements and other means – the substance of SUMH’s work.  The director is specifically charged with presenting SUMH’s work to a range of specialist and non-specialist audiences and overseeing the regular development of publications that are high-quality, timely and accessible to policy, funding, academic and governmental and community audiences, stakeholders and partners.  The ideal candidate will have demonstrated leadership in change and policy setting within their area of expertise


Operational Oversight. The SUMH director is responsible for maintaining the substance and delivery of SUMH’s work.  He or she will monitor project performance to ensure that project goals are met in a timely fashion. He or she will monitor work plans and staff labor distributions, program budgets, and ensure that activities within the program are appropriately staffed and funding is in accordance with good budgeting and fiscal practices.  The ideal candidate will have a solid background in the supervision and mentorship of a team of research and programmatic staff.


Near-Term Objectives

In the first six months, the director will:

  • Maintain the substance and delivery of SUMH’s existing high-quality portfolio of work;
  • Work closely with SUMH staff to implement SUMH’s strategic vision, including incorporating his or her current portfolio of work into SUMH and developing new research and program activities;
  • Develop good rapport and a positive and productive working relationship with SUMH staff; and
  • Build collaborative relationships with leaders in other centers and programs at Vera.


Location in Vera’s New York City office is preferred; however, location in Vera’s Washington DC office will be considered.


The Ideal Candidate

The ideal candidate will be an experienced mid-career or senior professional with who thrives in a creative, multi-disciplinary environment and is looking for an opportunity to expand and leverage his/her existing work to support practical reforms in order to improve the public health of this vulnerable population. The ideal candidate will have:


  • A demonstrated commitment to advancing a just, fair and equitable society;
  • Commitment to healthcare and/or justice reform;
  • Demonstrated research and policy expertise;
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills and an ability to articulate a strategic vision about SUMH’s work and to convey the knowledge and expertise of SUMH and its staff in a way that is compelling to partners, funders and other external stakeholders;
  • Experience forming and maintaining strategic partnerships and fundraising from private and public sources to support research, policy and programmatic initiatives;
  • Experience working with closely with government and other partners;
  • Ability to manage budgets with multiple funding streams; and
  • At least five years work experience with an advanced degree in a relevant field is required. A PhD is preferred.



Commensurate with experience, excellent benefits.


To Apply

Submit cover letter and CV. Online submission in PDF format is preferred.


However, if necessary, materials may be mailed or faxed to:

ATTN: Human Resources/Director, Substance Use and Mental Health Program

Vera Institute of Justice

233 Broadway, 12th Floor

New York, NY 10279

Fax: (212) 941-9407                                            


Please use only one method of submission (online, mail or fax).


No phone calls, please. Only applicants selected for interviews will be contacted.


Vera is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.  All qualified applicants will be considered for employment without unlawful discrimination based on race, color, creed, national origin, sex, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or citizenship status.  To do our work most effectively, Vera needs a staff with diversity in all of these categories, as well as in political beliefs, field of study, type of educational institution attended, and experience with the justice system.  We are proud to have assembled a staff that collectively embodies all these differences.


For more information about Vera, please visit our website,


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