Newly elected Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) appointed well-known criminal justice reform leader Vincent Schiraldi to lead the state’s juvenile justice department, and Rafael López, who led federal child welfare efforts during the Obama years, to the helm of the child welfare department.
“These leaders are going to help pave the way to creating a Maryland where no one is left behind,” Moore said in a press release announcing these and several other cabinet appointments.
Schiraldi has spent decades focused on justice systems, in both academia and direct service roles in the public and nonprofit sectors. In 1991, he co-founded the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), a nonprofit dedicated to reducing incarceration through direct service work, policy analysis and working directly with government systems to decrease their use of prisons. Ten years later, he branched off and launched the Justice Policy Institute, which focuses on research and advocacy to reform justice systems.
Schiraldi went on to lead Washington, D.C.’s juvenile justice department for five years, during which time he led a major overhaul of the system, replacing a notoriously problematic youth prison with a small facility geared toward youth development.
He later took over New York City’s probation department, where he was responsible for 1,000 staff members overseeing 26,000 youth and adults on probation. The department increased its efficacy in diverting youth from the justice system and focused on serving them within the city rather than sending them to faraway detention centers. He briefly led the city’s Department of Corrections in 2021 and 2022, and was an advisor during former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s early years in office.
In academia, Schiraldi made his mark as the co-founder of the Justice Lab at Columbia University which leverages the university’s research capacity to develop decarceration strategies alongside policymakers and formerly incarcerated individuals. He has served as a research fellow at Harvard and an instructor at New York University.
Schiraldi will take on this new role on the heels of sweeping youth justice reforms taking effect in the state, including several that minimize the use of detention and increase access to diversion, even for youth with some nonviolent felony convictions.
López will head up the Department of Human Services, which includes the state’s child welfare arm. He led the Administration on Children Youth and Families for the Obama administration and has most recently served as a senior advisor for that office, focusing on the care of unaccompanied minors arriving to the country as refugees or seeking asylum.
While leading ACYF, López advocated for funneling more federal dollars to preventing the need for foster care, a reform effort that came to pass during the Trump administration in the Family First Prevention Services Act. He also worked to set clear federal guidelines prohibiting the discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals in child welfare work, and to prevent federal dollars from funding conversion therapy.
He created the first White House Foster Care and Technology Hackathon and the 100-Day Challenge to End Youth Homelessness as ways to encourage private sector buy-in to addressing these social issues.
Early in his career, López built the Santa Cruz, California office of First Five, a statewide program investing in early childhood needs. He held multiple government roles across California focused on serving youth and families, including the Los Angeles Commission for Children, Youth and Their Families under former Mayor Antonio Villaregosa.
He later took a job as CEO of the Family League of Baltimore City, which aims “to dismantle the systemic barriers which limit the possibilities for children, families, and communities,” before moving on to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a large grant maker in the child welfare space.
More recently, López was a managing director for Accenture, where he focused on identifying areas where government systems could deploy technology to improve services for children and families.