School of Social Work in the news

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State jail task force urges change

Who is in Michigan jails, for how long and why, largely remains unknown following months of investigation. The Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration released its final report this week, leaving many questions. What is known is that even a short stay in jail is destabilizing, said Sheryl Kubiak, dean of Wayne State University’s School of Social Work, and a task force member. “If you had a job, you may lose it, and if you lose your job, then you might lose your housing. These unintended consequences have a big effect, which is why we want to work with the legislature now, while the momentum is still going.” Task force members will now work with the legislature in an effort to have at least some of their recommendations enacted through passage of new laws and/or statues, Kubiak said. “I’m optimistic. I think many of the legislators have had experience in the criminal justice system, as attorneys or in other ways, and I think they understand some of these issues very well,” Kubiak said. “We’ve made a good start here with smart and committed people.”
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Social Workers push back on Medicaid, SNAP work requirements

If you need Medicaid in Michigan, you’ll have to work…or get a waiver. New regulations pushed through by the State’s Republican Legislature and signed by then-governor Rick Snyder in 2018 went into effect on Jan. 1. The Trump administration is also pushing work requirements for those who receive federal food assistance and has tightened work requirements for those receiving food stamps or SNAP benefits. The move will kick 688,000 underprivileged people out of the program. Judith Wineman is a full-time faculty member in the Wayne State School of Social Work and the director of CHAMPS. The program helps young adults who have aged out of the foster care and the juvenile justice system get to – and stay in college. She says work requirements are a moral crisis. Marla Garmo is a Campus Coach for Wayne State’s CHAMPS program. “We have to think about what it really says about us as a country that we will allow people to go hungry, to lose out on their food stamps benefits and enforce a work requirement that really can be unattainable for some individuals.” Garmo says the system is set up to make the application process more difficult. “People have to apply online instead of a paper application and they might not have access to a computer, or don’t know how to use a computer. There’s a lot of barriers. So once you’ve been deemed eligible and given these benefits, now you’re being told there are additional requirements. None of that gets to why people can’t find a job.” These requirements often disproportionately affect underprivileged communities. “Poor people, immigrants, people that don’t speak the language, elderly people can’t advocate for themselves,” says Wineman. “To me, it’s a political smokescreen to say, ‘We’re doing this great thing by saving all this money by forcing people to work.’ To me and other social workers, that is not the answer.”
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Michigan task force on jails floats initial ideas for policy reform

A statewide task force charged with identifying ways to reduce Michigan’s jail population and expand alternatives to incarceration began to publicly shape its initial policy proposals on Tuesday. Ideas floated during a meeting in Lansing included reducing some low-level misdemeanor offenses to civil infractions, and ending the practice of suspending a person's driver's license unless the suspension is related to unsafe driving. The group includes prosecutors, law enforcement, attorneys, legislators, formerly incarcerated people and advocates. Discussions have been guided by research presented by the Pew Charitable Trusts, as well as testimony from residents across the state. Advocates laid out ways to better support victims, including the relatives of murder victims. Those families are "often left out and left in the cold" to navigate the court system when victim advocates become overloaded with cases, said Sheryl Kubiak, dean of social work at Wayne State University, who sits on the task force. 

Bringing the student startup dream to life at Wayne State

Armed with care packages, clothes and clinical supplies, medical students in Detroit are learning outside the classroom. They are putting their knowledge and boots to the pavement, providing free health care to the city's homeless. Each week, students under the supervision of a registered physician or nurse practitioner get on their bikes and look for those in need. Programs such as Michigan State University's Detroit Street Care, Wayne State University's Street Medicine Detroit and the University of Michigan's Wolverine Street Medicine work together to treat as many of the city's homeless as possible. Jedidiah Bell, a fourth-year med student at Wayne State University and president of Street Medicine Detroit, says seeing issues from lack of health care access in his home country of Zimbabwe made him want to participate. "When I moved to the states for university and medical school, I saw the similar things [lack of access] with the homeless population," said Bell. "When I saw street medicine, I appreciated the model of how can we take medical care to the street and build up trust to bridge the gap between the homeless and the medical world." While the programs provide a vital service to the community, Bell says the real-world experience teaches students things the classroom or clinic can't. "It teaches medical students to hone-in on, not just medical conditions of patients, but to be able to sit down and form relationships and discuss other things that might be contributing to [patients'] health but might not come up during a traditional medical encounter." Bell says there's a widespread belief that the "students take away more from people on the streets than they take away from us." Anneliese Petersen, a second-year medical student at Wayne State University and volunteer with Street Medicine Detroit, says the experience also shows upcoming medical professionals another side of health -- the social determinants. "Things that are not strictly medical-based but have a strong impact on health and well-being. Income, access to health care, access to medication, being able to eat well, sleep well, to be able to relax and not be under chronic stress."
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What the Jeffrey Epstein case reveals about female sex offenders

Wayne State University professors in the School of Social Work Poco Kernsmith, Erin B. Comartin and Sheryl Kubiak, dean, wrote a piece for The Conversation about the importance of understanding sex offenses perpetrated by women in light of the recent indictment of Jeffrey Epstein for sex trafficking. Epstein allegedly did not act alone. In a variety of court filings, some of his female associates, most notably Ghislaine Maxwell, have been depicted as instrumental in his sexual encounters. None of them has been criminally charged. “We have studied women who have been convicted of sexual assault, abuse and human trafficking, as well as public attitudes toward sex offenders. Our research, and that of others, shows the similarities and differences between male and female sexual offenders.” In conclusion, the authors wrote: “We believe that introducing prevention programs that specifically address women as potential perpetrators may be effective in helping to prevent some abuses, such as those alleged in the Epstein cases.”
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Data dump points task force toward areas of potential change when it comes to state’s jails

A group of lawmakers, judges, and law enforcement is starting to get a better idea of who is in Michigan’s jails and why. The Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration met Friday and got their first data dump from the PEW Charitable Trusts. PEW is working on collecting jail, court and arrest data from across the state to help the task force come up with recommendations for improvement. The Center for Behavioral Health and Justice at Wayne State University also presented the findings to the state task force. They found that almost half of the people released from jail in Michigan, are discharged after business hours. Experts say that creates problems for people who need mental health or substance abuse treatment. Sheryl Kubiak, School of Social Work dean and director of the Center for Behavioral Health and Justice, worked on the study. She said they studied jails in ten counties, and they found more than 43-percent of people released from jail are released between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. “So, if you can imagine somebody who is being discharged at 12:01 or 8 p.m., trying to connect with services is much more difficult,” she told the task force. The task force was created earlier this year to study’s Michigan’s jail system. It plans to have recommendations for improvements to the state’s jail system by January 9.
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Amid an urgent public health crisis, a bid to find better ways to curb opioid abuse

Against a backdrop of steadily-soaring opioid-related death rates in the U.S., state agencies and private funders are pairing up to tackle the complex problem of opioid use disorder. A new program, recently announced by the Michigan Opoid Partnership and Governor Gretchen Whitmer, aims to serve as a model of best practices for other states, especially those with large rural populations, in addressing opioid addiction. The $5 million series of grants will go towards the removal of barriers to effective treatment for opioid use disorder at all levels, from training and prevention to coordination, implementation and data collection. Another $1.5 million of the funds will go to select county jails and Wayne State University's Center for Behavioral Health and Justice, which will coodinate MAT programs and therapeutic behavioral treatments for incarcerated individuals over a 16-month period.
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$5M pledged for new opioid addition treatment program in public, private partnership

Combining private and public dollars, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer launched a new initiative to combat the same growing opioid crisis in the state that’s plaguing the country and killing thousands of Americans every year. The collaborative program, dubbed the Michigan Opioid Partnership, aims to remove barriers to those people who need to enter an opioid treatment program and find a path to success, Whitmer said Monday afternoon during a news conference on the campus of Wayne State University. In addition to the medication system in hospitals, the program will assist jails using a continuity-of-care approach focused on long-term treatment of opioid disorder using $1.5 million in funds. The Center for Behavioral Health and Justice at Wayne State University will get the grant to coordinate the efforts. County jails will be selected for funding to work in partnership with the university team to serve inmates with addiction. The program will last 16-months and will work like an extension of the current program in place, explained Sheryl Kubiac, the dean of Wayne State University’s School of Social Work and Director of the Center for Behavioral Health. Kubiac said the program was already involved in 16 counties with jail administrators and community stakeholders. “We’re going to act as sort of the glue, or the external facilitators to go into the counties and get folks to talk to each other,” she said. “Inside the jails we are going to lead them through a needs assessment. Each one of the county jails that works with us will get approximately $250,000 to be able to apply to an area of need.” Kubiac said working with addicts in jail is different than when someone is in the emergency department at a hospital; in jail, a person is forced to look at the problem and can’t hide from it. “You don’t get the hospital ER where they come in and go out. People that go in jail are usually there for a few days so you get a chance to really engage them, or begin the process of engagement and that’s really important when someone is addicted – you need that time to really engage them,” she said. “The medications do a start to get people paying attention and stabilize, but then what we have to do is try and figure out why they were using and try to fix what’s happening emotionally or psychologically.”
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Study finds treating inmates’ mental health reduces their risk of returning to jail

A new study offers a solution to the problems of jail overcrowding and recidivism in Michigan: Invest more in mental health and drug treatment. Wayne State University’s Center for Behavioral Health and Justice spent five years reviewing treatment and jail-diversion programs in 10 counties. Researchers found that people who got treatment for mental health disorders were less likely to return to jail. “Training law enforcement to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness is really important,” says Sheryl Kubiak, dean of WSU’s School of Social Work who led the study. “When we did pre- and post-interviews, officers would tell us things like they didn’t believe in mental illness, they just thought it was bad behavior. If we can decrease the number of people who go into costly confinement and deter them to treatment, I think we will do a lot better.” 
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Addressing mental health key to improving criminal justice system

Diverting individuals with mental health disorders into treatment programs rather than simply jailing them not only significantly reduces the jail population but also lowers the chances of recidivism among offenders, according to a five-year study conducted by the Center for Behavioral Health and Justice at Wayne State University’s School of Social Work and released by the state of Michigan. According to the study, 54 percent of all individuals booked into jails in the target counties reported some variation of a substance abuse problem, while 45 percent described themselves as housing insecure and 42 percent said they had been recently incarcerated. Meanwhile, 34 percent had some indication of mental illness. “More than just a collection of data, this report offers us an early roadmap to drastic improvements in how our criminal justice system handles issues of mental illness and substance abuse,” said Sheryl Kubiak, dean of the Wayne State School of Social Work and the principal investigator for the study. “In addressing these issues, we also give ourselves opportunity to address many of the problems that these issues underlie, including jail overcrowding, poor access to mental health, and drug treatment and recidivism.” Drug abuse presented an equally thorny problem for many jails, said Kubiak. “Most jails have little therapy or protocols for inmates suffering withdrawals,” she said. “Some just hand out blankets and Gatorade and think that’s enough.” Kubiak concludes: “As the study proves, when we simply lock up mentally ill or addicted individuals with no real plan to get them help, we’re only prolonging and exacerbating problems that we have the tools to effectively address.”  
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It's time to name a building or park after trailblazing Detroiter Maryann Mahaffey

It is time to recognize former Detroit City Council President Maryann Mahaffey for her 50-plus years of service to the city. As daughter, former students and mentees of Maryann, we are calling on the City of Detroit and Wayne State University to memorialize her through the naming of building, park and/or memorial garden. Maryann served 12 years as a city council president and 32 years as a member. She was also an author, educator, civil rights activist, volunteer and political leader at local, state, national and international levels for nearly 60 years, putting into action her deep commitment to solving critical social issues. Before her tenure on Detroit City Council, she served as program director of Brightmoor Community Center where she organized the first welfare rights group in Michigan. At city council, her lengthy list of accomplishments on behalf of people most in need includes developing the first Rape Crisis Center within the Detroit Police Department, chairing the Detroit City Council Housing Task Force and enacting legislation to ensure safety for homeless families and protect renters, passing laws establishing child care facilities in neighborhoods, prioritizing residents and neighborhoods over corporate interests, and establishing the first ever city-level task force led by residents with disabilities.