October 17, 2018

Center for Behavioral Health and Justice to expand School of Social Work’s community offerings

Of the more than 15 million people who pass through the U.S. criminal justice system each year, approximately 20 percent experience serious mental health or substance use disorders that frequently go unidentified or untreated.

Wayne State University School of Social Work created the Center for Behavioral Health and Justice to address these issues. This “center of excellence” assists local communities, organizations, and behavioral health and law enforcement agencies across Michigan in diverting individuals with mental health and substance use disorders from the criminal justice system to appropriate treatment. The center will provide these stakeholders with expertise, evaluation, support, training and technical assistance to inform effective, evidence-based policy and programs.

“The criminal justice system intersects with many other systems — particularly the behavioral health system — in ways that are extremely complex and difficult for communities and organizations to navigate,” said Social Work Dean Sheryl Kubiak. “This center will produce a much-needed infrastructure and the expertise required to assist local systems, assess programs, identify evidence-based practices and implement data-driven decision-making.”

group shot of people
Led by Social Work Dean Sheryl Kubiak, the center will house a robust body of grant-funded research supported by more than a dozen staff.

A welcome and open house for the new center will take place from 3:30-5 p.m. Nov. 1 in the McGregor Memorial Conference Center. For more event information and to RSVP, visit the event page. Judge Timothy Kenny (3rd Circuit Court), Robert Dunlap (Chief of Jails and Court Operations Wayne County Sheriff Office), and Dr. Debra Pinals (Medical Director of Behavioral Health and Forensic Programs for MDHHS) will speak  at the event.

Every intercept of the criminal justice continuum — from prevention to arrest, court, jail/prison, community re-entry and probation/parole — presents an opportunity to intervene. Diverting individuals away from the criminal justice system when appropriate — known as “smart decarceration” — has become one of 12 policy and practice priorities of the nation’s social work community under the profession’s Grand Challenges for Social Work.

Led by Kubiak — who has worked in and studied the use of diversion programs and the integration of substance abuse and mental health treatment into the criminal/legal system for more than 30 years — the center will house a robust body of grant-funded research supported by more than a dozen staff.

Among these projects are:

  • Statewide Jail Diversion, through which the center will advise the Governor’s Diversion Council based  upon the evaluation of diversion programs in 10 Michigan counties
  • Stepping Up Technical Assistance, through which funding from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is used to provide technical assistance to 21 counties working to keep individuals with mental illness out of jail
  • The Michigan Re-entry Project, which provides wraparound supports to individuals exiting prison who have co-occurring mental health and opioid use disorders

The center will also serve to enhance education and training for students. Particularly, M.S.W. students in the macro concentration focusing on innovations in community, policy and leadership (I-CPL) will have opportunities to participate in communitywide intervention. In addition, they will formulate ideas for criminal/legal reform, engage stakeholders through jail visits and other site-specific tasks, and conduct needs assessments and evaluation. The center currently employs five M.S.W. graduates from the I-CPL concentration.

Meanwhile, under the direction of Erin Comartin, assistant professor of social work and data director of the center, an Inside/Out course for the School of Social Work is also currently under development. The Inside/Out model of experiential learning pairs undergraduate students (outside students) with incarcerated individuals (inside students) for a semester-long policy course within the prison. Kubiak conducted a successful Inside/Out course for four years while at Michigan State University and is excited for Comartin to start the tradition at WSU School of Social Work.

In addition to Comartin, joining Kubiak on the center’s staff are Deputy Director Liz Tillander; Associate Director Julie Hanna; and a number of project coordinators and research, data and evaluation assistants. The center’s community partners include the Governor’s Mental Health Diversion Council, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the Michigan Department of Corrections. The center also collaborates with accomplished experts in the areas of behavioral and physical health from Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Massachusetts and the Wayne State School of Medicine, Psychiatry department.