Abstract: Promoting Behavioral Health with Community Partners to Reduce Criminal Justice Involvement (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Promoting Behavioral Health with Community Partners to Reduce Criminal Justice Involvement

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Independence BR C, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kathryn Bocanegra, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background: Over the past 40 years, many urban communities have experienced a devastating combination of inadequate capacity to address behavioral health needs and the over-criminalization of their residents. As a result, mass incarceration has yielded concentrated damage in poor and minority communities. In order for these trends to be reversed, it is essential for underserved communities to develop capacity to generate and sustain adequate behavioral health services – and other community supports – to reduce the use of incarceration. However, there is little to no evidence base defining how this capacity can be built in communities to lessen incarceration rates.

Methods: The study examines the applicability of a localized, place-based approach to reducing the criminal justice involvement of individuals with behavioral health needs. Nine individual interviews and eight focus groups with forty-three individuals were conducted (N=52). The study participants included individuals employed within the criminal justice system, social service providers, formerly incarcerated men and women, and residents of high incarceration neighborhoods. The study approach draws from community-based participatory research recommendations and utilizes qualitative analytic methods of constant comparative analysis and thematic analysis.

Results: The findings support the utilization of a community-centric framework that provides a structure for understanding the concentration of incarceration, as well as racial and behavioral health disparities among the incarcerated. Using a spatial lens through which to examine behavioral health and criminal justice involvement contrasts with most criminal justice interventions that frame the issue through identifying and treating individual pathologies while ignoring social and environmental contexts. Analyses discuss the implications of power imbalances, inequalities in resource distributions, and the prioritization of community perspectives in localized solutions to reverse the overrepresentation of individuals with behavioral health needs in carceral settings.

Conclusion: The study discusses opportunities within social work practice to engage in multidisciplinary efforts to develop and/ or support localized efforts to disrupt neighborhood pipelines to prison among residents with complex health needs. These opportunities include innovative funding strategies, program design for sustainability and capacity-building, and policy reform centering the insights of criminal legal system survivors.