Decarceration Projects
This Mentored Research Scientist Develop (K01) study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health entails developing and testing a novel behavioral intervention focused on criminal risk reduction and treatment adherence among probationers with serious mental illnesses. Better addressing the needs of criminal justice-involved people with serious mental illnesses can help to reduce behavioral health disparities in the criminal justice system. The study is being conducted in Cook County, Illinois.

A prolonged era of mass incarceration has resulted in extraordinary rates of imprisonment in the United States, particularly among some of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. Due to rising social and economic costs of incarceration, along with tight public budgets, there is great need, and opportunity, to reverse this dreadful trend. The United States at the beginning of the 21st century finds itself facing the enormous challenge of decarceration, or reducing its overreliance on incarceration. Seldom before in the nation’s history has the need for applied social innovation been more urgent.

The Smart Decarceration Initiative aims to stimulate applied policy and behavioral intervention research that will reduce the incarcerated population in ways that are humane, socially just, and sustainable. Effective decarceration will be occurring when: 1.The incarcerated population in U.S. jails and prisons is substantially lessened; 2. Existing racial and economic disparities among the incarcerated are redressed; and 3. Public safety and public health are maximized. In order to progress toward these goals, the Smart Decarceration Initiative promotes transdisciplinary work that:

  • Reconsiders the utility and function of incarceration
  • Supports innovations across sectors of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, courts, jails, prisons, and community supervision
  • Rigorously evaluates and applies emerging evidence to policy and practice in real time

The Smart Decarceration Initiative (SDI) has launched a two-year research project to advance “deferred prosecution” programs, thanks to funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Deferred prosecution is an innovative but understudied intervention: People charged with certain criminal offenses can be diverted from traditional court proceedings and, if things go well, avoid incarceration. Researchers will study how existing deferred prosecution programs were implemented in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and Cook County, Illinois. They also will engage potential future adopters of such programs like stakeholders in the City of St. Louis. The study will lead to the design of a multisite randomized control trial for several urban regions. Widespread use of effective deferred prosecution programs can create exit points for individuals out of the criminal justice system.

Smart Decarceration Initiative is leading the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare Grand Challenge – Promote Smart Decarceration. This work represents an opportunity to position the social work profession as leaders in the decarceration movement. Over 100 social work scholars and practitioners have joined together to identify, develop, and implement actionable steps to promote smart decarceration in three primary areas of social work: 1-Research; 2-Practice; and 3-Education.

Smart Decarceration Initiative is partnering with the St. Louis Integrated Health Network, City of St. Louis, Brown School Evaluation Center and a dozen other community agencies in order to improve health outcomes for minority reentrants in transition from jail to their communities. The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, awarded the grant to 7 recipients nationwide in order to improve coordination of services, reduce health disparities, and increase accessed to needed public health, behavioral health, health care coverage, and other social services. SDI will share its expertise on criminal justice-involved populations and serve as members of the evaluation team for the project.

Smart Decarceration Initiative is collaborating with St. Louis, Missouri, criminal justice entities to research, design, implement, and evaluate evidence-based policies and practices to reduce the incarcerated population in the region.

The Support4Families evaluation is funded by Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis. Support4Families was designed to assist families who struggle with the emotional strain of providing support to loved ones releasing from prison, and who may resort to maladaptive coping strategies that can deteriorate over the course of reentry. The Support4Familes program consists of six phases of intervention and support for family members and loved ones of incarcerated individuals. The first half of the 12 week program, aimed at skill development, was designed to be conducted while loved ones are still incarcerated. The second half, aimed at the practice of those skills, would be conducted after the loved ones release from prison. The program and evaluation is currently being conducted in St. Louis City and St. Charles County, Missouri.