The goal of our research is to improve mental healthcare and promote well-being for individuals who are currently or formerly incarcerated.
We have a longstanding collaboration with the State of Wisconsin Department of Corrections that allows us to work with people currently incarcerated in state prisons. We also work with formerly incarcerated people in our community. Our research approach includes community engagement, clinical trials, as well as basic studies on psychological and neurobiological functions relevant for emotion and decision-making. More information regarding our studies is available below and on our publications page.
In our studies with incarcerated people, we employ diagnostic clinical assessment instruments, self-report measures, and neuropsychological testing to examine the psychological mechanisms underlying of a number factors that relate to involvement with the judicial system (e.g., psychopathic and antisocial personality traits, history of childhood trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol use). We also conduct clinical trials to determine the feasibility and efficacy of psychotherapy in the prison setting. In addition, we utilize self-report questionnaires and focus groups to combine quantitative and qualitative methods in order to learn from incarcerated individuals about their needs and preferences for mental health care and treatment methods in prison.
In a second, related line of work, we collaborate with individuals and organizations from the community to establish research priorities related to incarceration and mental health, with an emphasis on identifying opportunities and overcoming barriers. This ongoing engagement efforts includes individuals directly impacted by incarceration (e.g., Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, EXPO/FREE) as well as officials from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
In a third line of work, we study neurobiological mechanisms underlying psychological processes of emotion processing and decision-making. We conduct studies with neurological and neurosurgical patients who have undergone dramatic changes in emotion, personality, and social behavior as a result of focal brain lesions. By associating specific areas of brain damage with specific changes in emotion, one can infer which brain areas are critically involved in affective function, and ultimately, which brain areas may be responsible for disorders of emotion, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to detailed mapping of the patient’s structural brain damage, we employ a range of assessment techniques that probe the patient’s emotional state as well as cognitive and psychosocial functions. Additionally, in collaboration with the Mind Research Network, we examine measures of brain structure and function in incarcerated individuals, which is made possible through a unique mobile MRI unit that we have previously deployed to state prisons.