Prof. Kevin Reitz, Robina Institute to Help Lead University Grand Challenges Research

November 15, 2017

The Law School’s Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice and its co-director, Professor Kevin Reitz, have been selected to take part in a new interdisciplinary research project under the auspices of the University’s Driving Tomorrow Grand Challenges program. The two-year project, entitled “Identifying and Addressing Disparities in the Criminal Justice and Health Care Systems,” will also involve researchers from the University’s medicine, sociology, and pediatrics departments; it is part of the Grand Challenges focus area Fostering Just and Equitable Communities.

While considerable recent attention has focused on mass incarceration, the majority of the criminal justice population is supervised through community supervision, particularly probation. Minnesota is a leading exemplar: it has the nation’s sixth-lowest incarceration rate and seventh-highest community supervision rate. Probation and supervised release violations represent a large share of prison admissions, are a key driver of Minnesota’s rising incarceration rate in recent years, and disproportionately impact people from racial and ethnic minority groups.

Individuals involved in the justice system are known to have high rates of chronic disease, mental illness, and substance use disorders. Despite the considerable health risks of those with criminal justice contact, the way their lives intersect with broader health disparities in our communities has been largely ignored. Reitz and his co-researchers aim to use Hennepin County as a strategic case study to better understand this intersection. They will use a mixed-methods approach to understand the health and health-care patterns of community supervisees, the impact of individuals’ well-being on completing community supervision requirements, and the impact of health and criminal justice disparities on communities of color in Minnesota.

In addition to Reitz, the project’s co-principal investigators are Professors Tyler Winkelman, M.D. (medicine), Rebecca Schlafer (pediatrics), and Michelle Phelps (sociology). They will be assisted by administrators, researchers, government officials, and community partners. The project will result in evidence-based policy and programmatic recommendations to help communities achieve lasting changes in health and supervision practices that are more just and equitable.

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