Justice & Forensic System Research

Current Projects:

Assessing Mental Health and Substance Use Needs and Service Disruptions for People Released from Custody During COVID-19.

Principal Investigators: Dr. Flora Matheson, PhD and Dr. Angela Mashford-Pringle, PhD

People who are released from correctional facilities face significant mental health and addiction challenges – in addition to poverty, homelessness, poor physical health and discrimination as they return to the community. These issues have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, as resources have been more difficult to access, particularly affecting the Indigenous, Black and 2SLGBTQ+ communities as they are over-represented in the prison system. In a collaboration between researchers, community service providers, people with lived expertise and knowledge users who support people released from incarceration, this study examines the challenges related to mental health and substance use for people released from custody during the pandemic and documents innovative adaptations in the mental health and addiction sectors that can inform present and future pandemic plans, preparations and responses to better address the needs of this population.

Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research

A SWOT analysis of John Howard Society’s mobile Reintegration Services

Principal Investigator: Dr. Flora Matheson
Co-investigator: Dr. Arthur McLuhan

When people leave correctional facilities, they face multiple barriers to successful community re-entry, including significant mental health challenges, substance use issues, and homelessness. The John Howard Society of Toronto developed the mobile reintegration trailer, a mobile service delivery model on the grounds of the Toronto South Detention Centre, Canada’s largest jail. This project assesses the mobile service delivery model in terms of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation

Breaking the Cycle of Incarceration: Solution’s Network

Principal Investigator: Dr. Flora Matheson
Co-investigator: Dr. Arthur McLuhan

MAP launched 10 collaborative solutions networks with a common goal: to effect real-world social change by co-designing and demonstrating what works to address critical challenges in our communities. The Breaking the Cycle MAP Solutions Network is one such network (Research Lead: Matheson) and is focused on improving lives by reducing social inequities among people experiencing criminalization (https://maphealth.ca/breaking-the-cycle/). It is a collaboration between researchers, community agencies. The goal of the network is to generate knowledge to transform practice and policy to better support people with TBI who are involved with the criminal justice system and to build a sustainable solution, as conceptualized by the Network, to support this population in managing court-mandated supervision conditions.

Project supported through the generosity of donors to the St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation

The catch-22 conditions of community supervision: Understanding the gendered nature of violations, sanctions, and the challenges of compliance for people with a history of traumatic brain injury

Principal Investigator: Dr. Flora Matheson
Co-investigators: Dr. Arthur McLuhan, Dr. Angela Mashford-Pringle, Dr. Catherine Wiseman-Hakes

Most people released from custody have bail, probation, or parole conditions that they must follow for a specific period of time. Release conditions are often difficult to meet and are a challenge to re-entry. Maintaining those conditions in the context of other complex needs makes community re-entry even more difficult, particularly for people experiencing traumatic brain injury (TBI), financial and housing insecurity, mental illness, and substance use disorders.  Gender differences in both TBI challenges and supervision experiences suggest the burden of conditions is particularly acute for women, who, for example, face competing supervision reintegration demands tied to familial roles and increased scrutiny of their sexual relationships and the intimate details thereof. To date, there are no studies on the everyday challenges of complying with conditions among people with a history of TBI. In partnership with the Breaking the Cycle Solutions Network members, this study will build awareness of the challenges of managing conditions of supervision among people experiencing TBI and inform evidence-based changes, as well as solutions, in community supervision policies, practices, and supports.

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

Completed Projects:

An Evaluation of the Services Provided by John Howard Society Toronto, Reintegration Centre

Principal Investigator: Dr. Flora Matheson
Agency lead: Amber Kellen, John Howard Society Toronto

When people leave correctional institutions, they often face a variety of challenges that make community re-entry and reintegration difficult, such as physical health conditions, mental health and substance use issues, homelessness, unemployment, and weak social support networks. The John Howard Society of Toronto’s Reintegration Centre opened in November 2014 to respond to these concerns. This mixed-methods process evaluation project examined how the Reintegration Centre helped clients navigate the first day of release from the Toronto South Detention Centre, with peer workers providing immediate supports for basic needs, such as clothing, food, transportation, and harm reduction kits, and warm referrals to other services to support re-entry and reintegration.

Funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation under the Local Poverty Reduction Fund.

Supporting Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury in the Ontario Criminal Justice System; Building Bridges and Creating Integrated Approaches to Care with The John Howard Society of Toronto: A Pilot Study

Principal Investigator: Dr. Flora Matheson
Co-investigator: Dr. Catherine Wiseman-Hakes

A history of Traumatic Brain Injury increases recidivism rates by 69%. Many people with TBI have a number of communication and cognitive challenges that, in the context of the criminal justice system, can be misinterpreted as defiance, rudeness, aggression, disengagement, or non-compliance. Most staff in the justice system do not have training in TBI and lack the knowledge, skills and confidence to recognize, or adequately manage these challenges. The John Howard Society of Toronto (JHS-T) is a non-profit organization committed to providing and developing programs that reduce the social, economic and personal costs of crime. Many of the JHS-T’s clients have a history of suspected or diagnosed TBI. To support the work of JHS-T, its front-line staff received formal training in how to screen and support clients with TBI. The project also created a network of collaborative care for JHS-T clients with TBI with the ABI-LHIN Navigator, the Acquired Brain Injury Network, and the Brain Injury Association of Toronto. The research team assessed the impact of the training and implementation of the network of collaborative care. A detailed final report can be found here.

Funded by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation

Traumatic Brain Injury and Criminalized Individuals: Identifying Best Practices for Communication Partner Training across the Justice System

Principal Investigators: Dr. Flora Matheson, Dr. Catherine Wiseman-Hakes, Dr. Angela Colantonio

Histories of traumatic brain injury are common among people who become entangled with the criminal justice system, with estimates as high as 80%.  Moderate to severe TBI is often associated with cognitive, communicative and behavioural impairments, leaving people vulnerable to misinterpretation, exploitation, and abuse.  They may have difficulties engaging in complex social interactions, including encounters with the police and in court proceedings. This project focuses on communication challenges for people with TBI and how staff in the justice/forensic system communicate with people who have TBI. It is part of a larger study, Integrating Brain Injury, Mental Health, and Addictions Research Program, with Principal Investigator Dr. Angela Colantonio.

Funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.