Occupational Therapy Models for Reentry

The majority of prisoners in the U.S. are released without receiving services that help prepare them for life after prison, making it more difficult for them to transition back into their communities. These difficulties include changes in their personal roles and overall family routines and structures, as well as finding housing and obtaining employment. Individuals who have been incarcerated and released face challenges obtaining a stable job due to a lack of vocational skills coupled with discrimination and prejudice from the community. Research has shown that upwards of 60% of people formerly incarcerated remain unemployed after one year after release. Another study shows that finding stable employment is often unattainable even years after release. Studies also indicate that individuals who are released from prisons without adequate training and preparation demonstrate lower vocational skill sets, diminished self-esteem, and have a challenging time obtaining housing and employment opportunities thereby affecting all occupations in the individual’s life.

The faculty mentors are exploring the role of OT in the penal system including the viability of creating Level I fieldwork opportunities for OT students. Over the past 4 years, the faculty mentors have facilitated projects that have explored existing programing offered within prisons and have also completed pilot phenomenological studies with correctional officers and with service providers who are currently implementing programs in prisons or with people who have been previously incarcerated.   This project is funded by an endowed gift received from an OT alum.

This work has resulted thus far in 2 poster presentations at AOTA National Conference in 2017 and one poster presentation at the 2018 AOTA Conference and 2 posters at the upcoming AOTA Conference in 2019.  The faculty was also asked to contribute to a book chapter:  “Promoting Occupational Participation in Marginalized Populations” that will be published in February 2020. Posters may be viewed here and here

Students selecting this capstone will conduct a comprehensive review of the role of occupational therapy in the criminal justice system (prisons) and to what extent OT services are provided.  Model programs across the country will be identified to learn how OT’s are engaged in assisting with community reintegration for those who have been incarcerated.

Contact: Betsey C. Smith, Senior Associate Dean of Health Sciences

Re-Entry in New Haven

The objective of this work is to examine the experiences of formerly incarcerated men and their perceptions of change institutions, how they assign meaning to their lives, how they expect to thrive in their local communities, and how they determine value in day-to-day survival. In addition this study seeks to explore how men who were formerly incarcerated analyze and articulate their lived experiences in the context of race, class, and gender in relation to their past involvement in the prison system. This is accomplished through a series of in-depth ethnographic interviews and observations. Research subjects participate in semi-structured interviews

Contacts: Professor Don Sawyer and Professor Steve McGuinn, College of Arts and Sciences

Black Male College Experiences

Don Sawyer is collaborating on a project with a colleague in California focusing on the experiences of Black males at private, predominately white institutions (PWI).  The goals of this study are to examine the life and educational histories of Black men, focusing on factors contributing to or impeding their educational success.

Contact: Professor Don Sawyer, College of Arts and Sciences

Urban Education

Don Sawyer is currently working on a project at a local high school where we are using hip-hop culture to (re)engage Black and Latino males with school.  The research portion of the project is a qualitative investigation of the social and academic experiences of 15 Black and Latino males participating in the program. 

Contact: Professor Don Sawyer, College of Arts and Sciences


Juvenile Sentencing Project

Sarah French Russell writes extensively on legal issues arising from juvenile sentencing. She coordinates the Juvenile Sentencing Project, which serves as a national research resource for advocates, courts, and legislatures.

Contact: Sarah Russell, School of Law


Death Penalty Legislation

Kevin Barry writes extensively on legal issues arising from death penalty legislation and death penalty repeal.

Contact: Kevin Barry, School of Law


Rights of Transgender People in Prison

Kevin Barry is working on several projects involving the civil rights of trans people, including those in prison.

Contact: Kevin Barry, School of Law


Philosophy of Punishment and Sentencing

Linda Ross Meyer's research argues for a more merciful and redemptive approach to punishment in The Justice of Mercy (2010) and Sentencing in Time (2017). 

Contact: Linda Meyer, School of Law