B.J. Wagner

Senior Fellow of Justice System Policy

Ms. Wagner, MS, joined the Meadows Institute in the fall of 2015 as Director of Smart Justice. In her current role as a Senior Fellow, B.J. leads the Institute’s Smart Justice work, expanding this reach to the larger behavioral and health systems and assisting communities across Texas to increase their prevention and intervention services and reduce chronic crisis cycles and justice involvement for people with complex healthcare needs.

Ms. Wagner possesses a unique blend of first-hand law enforcement experience and deep knowledge of police policy and operating procedures, program evaluation, technical advising, and procedural reviews and has developed curriculum for disciplines across the criminal justice system on mental health awareness, symptom recognition, and verbal de-escalation techniques.

At the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), B.J. 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 there, B.J. worked closely with the Department of State Health Services to redesign the adult assessment for admission to community mental health services 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.

Ms. Wagner 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. In the fall of 2015, Ms. Wagner provided expert consultation to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards on the creation of an evidence-based and research-informed mental health and suicide risk screening tool. The tool was adopted in December 2015 and mandated statewide for all 244 jails across Texas. In the months prior to the release of the form, there were nine suicides. For the first four months after the implementation of the form, there were none (and the trend since is well below baseline).

A noted leader in law enforcement policy, her 2019 review of the Austin Police Department resulted in significant departmental policy improvements regarding the city’s audit response and its capacity to capably deal with mental health-related situations. And, as the primary architect of the RIGHT Care-Dallas program, and engineer of many of Texas’ prison reentry systems, her work has led to the development of nationally recognized and internationally awarded law enforcement, criminal justice, crisis intervention, and response systems. Ms. Wagner has led MMHPI’s consultation to communities across Texas, both large and small.

She is currently pursuing a PhD in Qualitative Criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas.