Former Hennepin County Attorney and relentless criminal justice advocate Tom Johnson received two career achievement awards Tuesday.
One award was presented by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, which gave him its first “Customer Service Award.” Johnson founded the group more than three decades ago, and it has since implemented adult detention, mental health and drug initiatives.
The other award was from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who proclaimed Tuesday, Jan. 22 “Tom Johnson Day.” He joked that Johnson has been doing criminal justice reform “probably since before I was born.”
“Tom has a history of significant endeavors,” said Frey. “Tom, most likely, had these many initiatives in his brain before they were put on paper.”
The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee was designed to share initiatives among players in the criminal justice system before an agency or individual went public with an idea.
Johnson said the committee, which consisted of smart people, could weigh in on the initiatives before they were announced.
“I looked at the committee’s website today and we’ve come a long, long way,” said Johnson. “It’s the committee’s own initiatives. They are broad and cutting edge. And that’s good stuff.”
Mike Freeman became Hennepin County Attorney in 1990, after Johnson decided not to run again after 12 years. Freeman’s office gave Johnson its distinguished service award two years ago.
He said Johnson “inspired us all” and that his ideas were way ahead of his time. His office benefited from the employees Johnson hired and the practices he put in place.
Johnson was a tireless advocate who fought for children who suffered abuse, Frey said. He never lost touch with the communities he served, including when he was a Minneapolis City Council member representing the Second Ward.
Several dozen judges, attorneys, politicians, and friends gathered at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis to honor Johnson.
He said getting the criminal justice system right is really important, but there is no silver bullet. Johnson said he never imagined that the committee would be still be working so many years later.
“But we are all better off for it,” he said.