Promoting Better Health: New Research Study to Explore Improved Services for Probationers


A new research study by the University of Delaware’s Center for Drug and Health Studies (CDHS) will explore ways to improve the delivery of health care and social services to individuals who are on probation.

In the two-year pilot project, representatives of various agencies will form “Culture of Health” teams and reach out to those on probation in New Castle County, seeking to connect them with available services.

Probationers and others in the criminal justice system often have health problems, including addiction and mental health issues, but also frequently encounter obstacles in seeking help, said Daniel O’Connell, a CDHS scientist and assistant professor of criminal justice, who is leading the project.

“The probation system sees a large group of people [who must report to their probation officer on a regular schedule] who probably aren’t accessing the health care they need,” O’Connell said. “They may be out of work, lack transportation, not signed up for Medicaid or have any number of other issues that are barriers to getting health care.”

The research study is one of four across the U.S. recently announced by the Systems for Action National Coordinating Center, based at the University of Kentucky and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. That foundation provided $1 million to support the four new studies, with each receiving up to $250,000.

In Delaware, a CDHS researcher will begin by working with various agencies to form partnerships in which probationers can be referred to medical screenings and other services they need. A key element, O’Connell said, will be helping a client navigate administrative processes and red tape.

An example: An individual who needs non-emergency health care must first enroll in Medicaid before making an appointment to see a doctor. That might require a trip to the Medicaid office, which might require figuring out how to get there without a car and, perhaps, without money for bus fare. It’s easy to see why someone facing that process might decide not to get a recommended health screening, O’Connell said.

But while waiting for a weekly check-in with a probation officer, that same person might take time to meet with the on-site CDHS staffer and get the information and assistance he needs. And that help isn’t limited to medical care.

“The new paradigm is: Everything affects health,” O’Connell said.

To address the need for those other services that can have an impact on health, the Culture of Health teams will include the state departments of Health and Social Services, Housing, Labor and Education, as well as Christiana Care Health System and the community agency Connections, which offers programs for substance abuse and mental health disorders.

The Department of Correction has welcomed the study as a way to help probationers in ways that probation officers aren’t trained to do, O’Connell said.

The two probation reporting offices in New Castle County will provide a private office where the team can meet with probationers who want to do so, he said, and all information will be confidential and not shared with anyone in the Department of Correction.

Researchers hope to produce a “Healthy You” workbook to guide probationers to available resources. Later, the study will evaluate whether the workbook alone is effective or if a personal consultation is better at improving a probationer’s health.

About Systems for Action

The Systems for Action National Coordinating Center, which will manage the four new studies, is housed at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health.

Its mission is to use thorough scientific methods to discover how best to deliver and finance the constellation of services that support health in American communities.

In addition to the UD study, the other recent projects included in the $1 million grant are being conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health/Department of Health Services, Drexel University’s School of Public Health and Michigan State University. Those studies focus on housing for the homeless, needs of low-income families and health care for older adults.

“Health and social services are supported through a fragmented mix of agencies, community institutions and funding streams that contribute to the large differences in health outcomes and costs that we see across the U.S.,” said Glen Mays, director of Systems for Action. “These studies will help us learn how to restructure delivery and financing systems in ways that give everyone an equal chance to be healthy.”

About the Center for Drug and Health Studies

The Center for Drug and Health Studies, which was established at UD in 1991 as the Center for Drug and Alcohol Studies, was renamed in 2014 to reflect its expanded focus.

It facilitates collaborative and engaging primary research on substance abuse, health risk behavior, health services and health policy among social and behavioral science faculty, professional staff and graduate students.

The center is housed in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice and is funded entirely through sponsored research grants and contracts. It provides a national research focus as well as service to the state of Delaware. 


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O'Connell D, Mays GP
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