Abstract: Building Social Capacity to Address Behavioral Health Needs and Reduce Incarceration in Underserved Chicago Communities (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Building Social Capacity to Address Behavioral Health Needs and Reduce Incarceration in Underserved Chicago Communities

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Independence BR C, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Durrell Washington, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Chicago, IL
Background: Individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and have little access to behavioral health treatment services. Rates of mental illness and substance abuse among incarcerated people are three to seven times higher than in the general public.12 And despite the overwhelming need for treatment behind bars, less than 10% of incarcerated people with behavioral health disorders receive evidence-based treatment before, during, or after incarceration. 3

Methods: The purpose of this study was identify community-centric approaches to address behavioral health treatment needs of people with criminal justice involvement in Austin and Washington Park, two high-incarceration neighborhoods within the City of Chicago. To guide this research project, a Community Advisory Board (CAB) was assembled representing key stakeholders who live or work in the Austin and Washington Park neighborhoods and are familiar with the various challenges facing these two underserved communities. Thirteen people participated in at least one of seven CAB meetings over the course of eight months. Members of the CAB included service providers, members of law-enforcement, representatives of other community organizations or institutions, and people with lived experience in the criminal justice system. CAB meetings were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using the qualitative method of thematic analysis.

Results: The results discuss how conceptualizations of resources, power, and collective action within high incarceration neighborhoods are not adequately represented within existing research on neighborhood collective efficacy, community capacity, social capital or social cohesion. This suggests that a complementary concept- social capacity- is relevant as a framework for community-centric decarceration strategies. This study represents the first effort at defining social capacity through a collaborative community-led process with the potential of guiding the development of neighborhood-level interventions to disrupt neighborhood-to-prison pipelines.

Conclusion: The discussion describes challenges and opportunities to advance racial equity between social work researchers and stakeholders within high incarceration communities, with specific recommendations related to reducing criminal justice contact among residents with behavioral health needs.