Abstract: Promoting Behavioral Health with Community Partners to Reduce Criminal Justice Involvement (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

Promoting Behavioral Health with Community Partners to Reduce Criminal Justice Involvement

Friday, January 13, 2023
Encanto B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* 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.