It simply didn't sit well with her: Christi Griffin was a practicing attorney when she began to see instances of greed and abuse of power. It was not one particular problem, but an assortment of unethical behavior, and it drove her to do something. In 2007, Griffin founded local nonprofit, The Ethics Project (TEP).
The organization began with a focus of bringing to light codes of professional ethics of law enforcement the legal professions. By doing so, TEP was attempting to educate the public in hopes of lowering the amount of wrongful prosecutions.
But how does one meet a goal so large? As the work of TEP has shown, it starts with communication. "TEP has twice helped shape the mindset of police cadets and ranking officers through an acclaimed national speaker and former inmate," Griffin says. "The police department has been very actively supportive of the work done by The Ethics Project, and we continue to dialogue about best practices to stop crime, violence and incarcerations."
Additionally, Griffin says TEP has hosted lunches and invited police and St. Louis-area pastors to discuss ongoing concerns, as well as continued to meet one-on-one with the region's public safety professionals "to gain a better understanding of crime and the role of police, and to share a different point of view."
Griffin says that TEP also has worked with judges for its 'Incarcerations in Black and White' program at the Missouri History Museum.
"Over the course of the past seven years, it became obvious that the problem within our criminal justice system goes far beyond wrongful prosecutions," she says. "Mass incarceration has grown rampantly in this country and has a grossly deleterious impact on children, families and minority communities, in particular. In an effort to reduce the disparities in policing, prosecution, sentencing and incarceration and the impact the system has on our communities at large, The Ethics Project has expanded its educational outreach to raise awareness of the problem."
Griffin explains that TEP's youth programs are designed both to learn from the youth and to reach those at risk of committing crimes, as well as those likely to be victimized by crime and those who likely will be impacted by the incarceration of a relative or friend.
To do so, TEP's youth outreach includes five youth gang summits, the Youth Empowerment Forum, the Family Empowerment Weekend Retreat, and more. "In 2012, we worked with the Riverview Garden School District to present a program on the philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and slain human rights leader, Malcolm X," Griffin explains. "In addition to Victor Woods, we brought one of Malcolm X's daughter’s to speak to the full audience of at-risk students." She says that a similar program was designed for six school districts in 2011.
"One in every one hundred adult American citizens are currently incarcerated, and millions more now carry the stigma of a criminal record. TEP uses a variety of vehicles to raise awareness of an industry that has increased by over 600 percent since the last 30 years and now exceeds $72 billion dollars a year," Griffin says.
While many organizations have a more tangible goal—like raising enough money to fund a certain project—Griffin's work is ongoing due to the long-term nature of the change TEP hopes to implement. "Our greatest accomplishment as an organization is seeing a broad increase in awareness of the injustices within the criminal justice system and recognizing that we’ve contributed, along with the police and other organizations, to a significant decrease in crime in St. Louis," she says. "We have witnessed at-risk students, parents, educators, police, pastors, legislators and others within the community change before our eyes."
Prior to TEP, Griffin, a Saint Louis University School of Law graduate, spent 23 years working as a bankruptcy attorney. And Griffin's work in the community includes more than The Ethics Project. She says she's served on "too many [boards and committees] to ever list in one place," but her involvement includes The United Way, Kenrick Glennon Seminary, the Archdiocesan Pro-Life Committee and the Archdiocesan Board of Education. She has published two books: 21 Days to Joy: A Daily Devotional to Finding Joy in 2008, and her more recent Incarcerations in Black and White: The Subjugation of Black America. Griffin says that her first book "is based on the psychological theory that you can engage in the same conduct consistently for 21 days and it becomes habit," explaining that she needed to find her lost joy after experiencing such unethical behavior. Her second book, Incarcerations in Black and White: The Subjugation of Black America, discusses the details surrounding those specific actions that lead to the creation of TEP.
Griffin has been honored with a multitude of awards, including the Women of Courage Award from Mother's of Incarcerated Sons and Daughters, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis' Women in Leadership Award, The President's Call to Service Award and the Dr. Martin Luther King Drum Major for Justice Award, among others.