This workshop will introduce an anti-oppressive research approach tailored to this specific context, which we are calling a nexus-based methodological framework. Court diversion participants exist at the nexus of the criminal-legal and community mental health systems, and as such, they require a unique and flexible set of social work interventions to support their meaningful engagement and completion of program mandates. It logically follows that when diversion programming clients are asked to participate in qualitative research, researchers must attend to ethical and pragmatic considerations to prevent material, ethical, or epistemic injustices from happening during or after the research process. Especially given research participants' ongoing criminal-legal involvement and psychiatric symptoms, engaging participants ethically and effectively is of utmost importance.
Workshop presenters, who all possess social work practice experience, will offer insights from our ongoing study of mental health-focused court diversion programming in a large Midwest city. After developing interview questions, obtaining informed consent, conducting interviews with participants, compensating participants, and qualitatively interpreting interview data, we identified a set of methodological findings. First, the role of boundaried rapport-building with research participants is essential. Second, the intersection of criminalization and pathologization can result in heightened guardedness or distrust from research participants, who might be hesitant to share experiences with researchers. Third, the researcher may benefit from a practice-informed approach to research that mobilizes an understanding of psychiatric symptoms and common legal terms in order to avoid epistemic gaps in the research process. The framework we propose is rooted in our own on-the-ground decision-making about emergent research concerns that implicated power and oppression. These dynamics emerged in moments during interviews where participants displayed psychiatric symptoms, where we navigated compensation with participants, and where we were able to discern participants' guarded reactions to us as researchers and social workers. Our findings stem from participant interview data as well as researcher-authored memos that were created during data collection.
This interactive workshop will cover: 1) the benefits of a qualitative methodological framework that can attend to criminal-legal and psychiatric contingencies. 2) strategies for promoting epistemic justice within qualitative research at the nexus of criminal-legal and community mental health systems. Presenters will facilitate discussion with attendees about applications of the framework to their own work. By prompting attendees to consider their own research and practice experiences, the workshop will illustrate the core considerations and potential applications of our novel framework.