NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Since its founding in 2002 with a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Rutgers Center for Behavioral Health Services and Criminal Justice Research has focused exclusively on mental health services issues that arise when persons with mental illness have encounters with the criminal justice system.
Now, the NIMH has awarded a second grant to the Rutgers center, this one for $8 million over five years that will allow the center's research to expand into areas of co-occurring substance use and abuse.
The center was created to advance research that sought to improve the welfare of people with mental illness in ways that minimized the disruption of treatment and maximized their potential to lead productive and rewarding lives, according to Director Nancy Wolff. She added that the new grant will establish the center as an Advanced Center for Innovation in Services and Intervention Research, allowing it to recruit additional researchers and develop new intervention projects in its expanded focus.
At Rutgers, the center is part of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research; though the center's multidisciplinary team is situated in a "borderless" research environment that includes staff and research sites across the country. The center's Research, Methods, and Network cores are directed, respectively, by Jeffrey Draine (University of Pennsylvania), Steven Belenko (Temple University) and Richard Baron (University of Pennsylvania). The newly established Network Core builds and sustains social networks through local and web-based communities of practice.
Helene White, a professor of sociology with a joint appointment at Rutgers' Center of Alcohol Studies, is the center's deputy director.
"We have conducted state-of-the-art research in two major areas," Wolff explained. "We study precursors to the criminal encounter that focus on the individual with mental illness and how that person comes to the attention of the criminal justice system. We also study processing dynamics that examine how the criminal justice system responds to the individual's mental illness as the person moves through the criminal justice continuum. Now we can explore the added dimension of substance use and abuse issues in the criminal justice system."
"We test various interventions, including how to build academic partnerships with community organizations, state agencies and policymakers," added Wolff, a professor of public policy with the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. "The center has established very productive relationships with the New Jersey Department of Corrections and the New Jersey Parole Board that allow us to work inside prisons and halfway houses."
The center's researchers rely on and work with a range of stakeholders, from practitioners and policymakers to advocates and consumers, Wolff noted. "Central to our mission is the involvement of stakeholders at all stages of the research and dissemination process," she said. "We build their capacity to apply research in practice and in policymaking."