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Loyola Law Professor Receives Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Grant

By Loyola University on Wed, 10/02/2019 - 09:51

Research will examine effects of incarceration on health service use in Louisiana

(New Orleans – October 1, 2019) – Loyola law professor Andrea Armstrong is one of the nation’s leading experts on prison and jail conditions. She spends her days teaching and studying issues affecting the incarcerated – particularly incarcerated residents of Louisiana. Now, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is honoring her critically acclaimed work, naming her an Interdisciplinary Research Leadership Fellow and providing her team a generous grant to fund their research.  

Supported by a $350,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Armstrong and colleagues from Voice of the Experienced (VOTE) and LSU Health Sciences Center will examine the effects of incarceration on health service use in Louisiana, currently a global and national leader in incarceration rates. Through a three-year study, the team will assess current health practices and policies affecting people serving state sentences for criminal convictions, experiences with receiving and delivering health care in carceral settings, and analysis of health services use post-incarceration.

“We already know that being incarcerated can have a profound impact on individuals, their families, and their communities. With this RWJF grant, our team can focus on the relationships between incarceration and health care with the goal of promoting healthier communities throughout our state,” Armstrong said. 

In their proposal, the research team cited “a clear and urgent need to improve coordination between justice, health care, and social services systems to ensure that people being released access appropriate support.” 

Joining forces with Armstrong are community health expert Dr. Ashley Winnerstrom (LSU Health Sciences Center) and Bruce Reilly (Voice of the Experienced), a scholar with personal incarceration experience and expertise in advocacy and community organizing.

With an eye toward equity, the interdisciplinary research team aims to improve community health by understanding and addressing health service delivery gaps and improving care coordination within the Louisiana prison system and for the recently released. Their plan is to compare results found within the state system with nationally recognized care standards and policies, as well as to compare results from facility to facility, identifying gaps in health and social services. Through their work, the team hopes to learn more about how social services are coordinated for people in prison and facing re-entry — and whether and how Medicaid services recently expanded in Louisiana are used by this vulnerable population. Their study could ultimately be used as a model for other states. 

In 2017, large-scale criminal justice reform, driven in part by VOTE, enabled the initial release of 3,000 prisoners and shortened parole times, leading to an increase in monthly releases, researchers said.  What happens to those residents upon re-entry? Currently, 2.3 million people in the U.S. are incarcerated; the vast majority in state prisons will eventually be released and re-enter society, according to the team’s research. Residents going through re-entry experience a greater burden of disease, disparities in access to care, and a 12-fold higher risk of death immediately following release. How can Louisiana – and other states –improve access and delivery of health care services to address these disparities?

These are the questions Armstrong and her team plan to address through their research.

Check out Professor Armstrong’s bio.

Learn more in “Inspiring What’s Next,” the university’s 2019 Provost’s Report.