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, and Indigenous, Black and 2SLGBTQ+ persons have been particularly affected as they are over-represented in the prison system. Through qualitative interviews and an online survey, this study will examine the challenges related to mental health and substance use for people released from custody during the pandemic.

The study is a collaboration between researchers, community service providers, people with lived expertise and knowledge users who support people released from incarceration. The findings will inform government responses to pandemics to ensure people who have incarceration histories are adequately supported. In addition, the findings will document 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.

An Investigation of John Howard Society’s Mobile Reintegration Services

Principal Investigator: Dr. Flora Matheson

When people leave correctional facilities, they face countless barriers to re-entry including significant mental health challenges, substance use issues, and homelessness. The John Howard Society of Toronto has implemented a mobile service delivery model on the grounds of the Toronto South Detention Centre, Canada’s largest jail located in South Etobicoke. This project will assess the mobile service delivery model and is currently in development with the John Howard Society of Toronto.

Funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation

Breaking the Cycle: An eHealth Tool to Support Community Integration for People with Traumatic Brain Injury and History of Incarceration

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

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 in the context of re-entry challenges and other complex needs. For example, orders to avoid particular people and places can reduce access to vital social support networks and services; orders to abstain from drugs and alcohol may be difficult to follow for those with histories of substance use; and orders to find employment are challenging when one has a criminal record. Maintaining those conditions in the context of other complex needs makes community re-entry difficult, particularly for people experiencing traumatic brain injury (TBI), financial and housing insecurity, mental illness, and substance use disorders. Research shows that about 80% of people incarcerated have experienced a head injury which creates a variety of chronic challenges, such as reduced cognitive functioning, limited memory, reduced emotional regulation capacity, and social interaction problems.

We are working with a network of community partners and people with lived experiences of incarceration to understand how being on a release with conditions from a correctional facility, police station, or court affects community re-entry, with focus on people on the spectrum of head injuries and those without. The insights gained will be used to inform the development of a mobile app that can support with re-entry into the community after release.

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

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 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.

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

Approximately 80% of incarcerated adults have a reported history of Traumatic Brain Injury. A history of TBI increases recidivism 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.

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

TBI is highly common in people who have contact with the justice system. In fact, about 80% of incarcerated adults have a reported history of TBI. Moderate to severe TBI is often associated with cognitive, communicative and behavioural impairments, leaving people vulnerable to misinterpretation, exploitation, and abuse. Thus, they may have difficulties engaging in important and complex social interactions, such as encountering police officers and attending court proceedings. This project explored communication challenges for people with TBI and how staff in the justice/forensic system communicate with people who have TBI. This project is part of a larger study, Integrating Brain Injury, Mental Health, and Addictions Research Program, with Principal Investigators Dr. Angela Colantonio and Dr. Flora Matheson.

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