WSU School of Social Work opens Center for Behavioral Health and Justice - Nov. 1 Welcome & Open House


The Wayne State School of Social Work has announced the creation of the Center for Behavioral Health and Justice. This purpose of this 'center of excellence' is to assist 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. Specifically, the center will provide these stakeholders with expertise, evaluation, support, training and technical assistance to inform effective, evidence-based policy and programs.

More than 15 million individuals pass through the U.S. criminal justice system each year, approximately 20% of whom experience mental health or substance use disorders that frequently go unidentified or untreated. 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 Social Work Dean Sheryl Kubiak and located in the Prentis Building, the center will house a robust body of Kubiak's grant-funded research supported by more than a dozen staff. Among these projects are: 1) Statewide Jail Diversion, through which the center will advise the Governor's Diversion Council based upon the evaluation of diversion programs in 10 counties; 2) Stepping Up Technical Assistance, through which the center will help the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services provide technical assistance to 21 counties working to keep individuals with mental illness out of jail: and 3) the Michigan Re-entry Project, which provides wraparound supports to individuals exiting prison who have co-occurring mental health and opioid use disorders.

"The criminal justice system intersects many other systems, and particularly the behavioral health system, in ways that are extremely complex and difficult for communities and organizations to navigate," said Kubiak, who has 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. "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."

The center will also serve to enhance education and training for Wayne State social work students. Master's students, particularly those in the macro concentration focusing on innovations in community, policy and leadership (I-CPL), will have opportunities to participate in community-wide intervention, to formulate ideas for criminal/legal reform, to engage stakeholders through jail visits and other site-specific tasks, and to conduct needs assessments and evaluation. The center currently employs five MSW graduates from the I-CPL concentration of the WSU SSW.

Meanwhile, under the direction of Erin Comartin, Assistant Professor of Social Work and Data Director of the Center, an Inside/Out course for the SSW 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 very successful Inside/Out course for four years while at Michigan State University and is extremely excited that Comartin is starting the tradition at the Wayne State School of Social Work.

In addition to Comartin, joining Kubiak on the center 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.

A Welcome and Open House event for the new enter will be hosted on November 1 at 3:30 - 5:00 p.m. in the Prentis building. For more event information and to RSVP, visit the WSU Event Calendar.

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