Study Examining Mental Health and Jail Populations Wins National Award

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Faye Taxman: ‘A truly engaged research endeavor, the best of all worlds. Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services
Faye Taxman: ‘A truly engaged research endeavor, the best of all worlds. Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services

A groundbreaking, $3.6 million study acknowledging that jails in the United States are de facto mental institutions—which also studies implementation strategies that can reduce jail populations across the country—won the Mission Award from the Society for Implementation Research Collaboration (SIRC), a national organization that encourages collaborations by academics, scientists, and researchers to create evidence-based psychosocial interventions.

This is the first time SIRC has presented the Mission Award. The award recognizes collaborations to advance system enhancements to better address health and justice equity issues.

The study, “Evaluation of Stepping Up Efforts to Improve MH Services and Justice Utilization,” is a collaboration among three universities led by Schar School of Policy and Government University Professor Faye S. Taxman at George Mason University, C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health at Michigan State University Jennifer E. Johnson, and Jill Viglione, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Florida.

The study is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (R01MH118680, MPI Taxman and Johnson) working alongside a national initiative founded by three stakeholder organizations working to reduce jail populations.

The Mission Award recognizes the significance of the national Stepping Up Initiative to reduce overincarceration of people with mental illnesses, developed and led by the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF),” SIRC said in a statement. “More than 15 million people pass through the U.S. criminal justice system each year, 66 percent of whom have mental health disorders.”

NACo-CSG-APAF recognized seven years ago that there was a need to reduce the number of individuals with serious mental illness in jails and to improve access to community mental health services for currently or potentially justice-involved individuals,” said MSU’s Johnson. “They created Stepping Up to address this issue with over 550 counties now participating in reducing the footprint of the justice system for those with mental health disorders.”

Taxman is the founding director of the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence (ACE!) at the Schar School and was principal investigator of the study.

“We are so pleased to receive this award because it not only recognizes the tremendous work of our collaborative research team both at Mason and our participating institutions, but it recognizes that our study would not be possible without the passion and commitment of national organizations—NACo, CSG, and APAF—to address the overrepresentation of people with mental health disorders in local jails,” said Taxman. “This award means so much to me as a scientist who has dedicated my career to working with organizations to achieve system improvements, and we are grateful for our partner agencies to work on this study.  A truly engaged research endeavor, the best of all worlds.”

"Jails are an understudied area,” Taxman added, "and the collaborative work of the practice partners and academic teams illustrates the enormous effort required to work on complex system issues, both in terms of how to change systems and how to document the change. The Mission Award recognizes not only the collaborative effort, but also the individual talent of those whose work has been awarded."

SIRC’s Mission Award is shared by the national organizations of NACo, CSG, and APAF, researchers Taxman and Johnson, and other contributing researchers and stakeholders:

  • Risë Haneberg and Mark Stovell, the Council of State Governments Justice Center;
  • Nastassia Walsh, the National Association of Counties;
  • Chris Chun-Steeley, American Psychiatric Association Foundation;
  • Niloofar Ramezani, biostatistician at Mason’s College of Engineering and Computing;
  • Schar School doctoral students Cathee Lee, Jiaxin Wei, and Olzhas Zhorayev;
  • Mason researchers Ben Mackey, Alex Breno, and Kendra Clark;
  • Professor of Health Administration and Policy Alison Cuellar from Mason’s College of Health and Human Sciences;
  • Maji Hailemariam Debena, assistant professor in the Division of Public Health, College of Human Medicine at MSU;
  • MSU research assistant Hiywote Wencheko and medical student Crystal Nance-Panek;
  • Rochelle Rosen, associate professor at the Center for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at the Miriam Hospital in Rhode Island and associate professor at Brown University School of Public Health; and,
  • Nicholas Paul, doctoral student at UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education.

View a presentation and learn more about the study findings here. Read more about the one of the study’s outcomes here