Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice

Project Overview

Driven to Discover

The Project

Identifying and Addressing Disparities in the Criminal Justice and Health Care Systems

While considerable attention has focused on the causes and consequences of mass incarceration, the majority of the criminal justice population is supervised through community supervision, particularly probation. Minnesota is a leading exemplar of this pattern; while Minnesota has the sixth lowest incarceration rate in the nation, our community supervision rate is the seventh highest. 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, how community-based criminal justice contact intersects with broader health disparities in our communities has been largely ignored. Our study, “Identifying and Addressing Disparities in the Criminal Justice and Health Care Systems,” aims to use Hennepin County as a strategic case study to better understand these relationships between community supervision, health, and well-being. We will use a mixed-methods approach to understand the health and health care patterns of adults on probation, the impact of individuals’ well-being on completing community supervision requirements, and racial and gender inequalities in these overlapping systems.

Our interdisciplinary team comprises researchers from law, medicine, psychology, and sociology; government officials; and community partners. The work 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.

Project Components 

1. Integrated cross-sector records in Hennepin County

  • We created a cohort of adults on probation in 2014 and 2016 and have begun data analysis.
  • We expect to have preliminary reports by the end of 2020, primarily focused on the health and health care use of individuals on probation.

2. Qualitative interviews with health care providers

  • We interviewed 23 providers at community health centers in Hennepin County.
  • We have analyzed the data and are preparing publications for submission in Fall 2020.

3. Surveys and interviews with probation officers

  • We developed a survey and interview guide, which seeks to understand how probation officers work to address the health and wellness needs of their clients.
  • The interviews were initiated in March of 2020. While in progress, the Governor ordered a statewide shutdown due to the pandemic. It was determined that this development, because rooted in a health issue, changed the nature of the interviews so substantially as to render the original goals of the study infeasible. A decision was therefore made to eliminate the interview portion of the study and proceed only with the survey.
  • Data collection for the survey was completed in March of 2020. All responses were gathered prior to the state shutdown due to the pandemic. We are in the process of analyzing the data, and expect to release a report by the end of 2020.

4. Interviews with adults on probation

  • We completed interviews with 166 adults on probation in Hennepin County in 2019. The interviews cover a range of questions about participants’ lives, including health and healthcare access, experiences with supervision, employment, housing, and criminal justice contact.
  • We are currently in the process of data analysis and expect to have reports to share in 2021.

Probation and Health

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Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice
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