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Reducing rural incarceration rates

Alan Flurry

An interdisciplinary team co-led by sociology faculty member Sarah Shannon was awarded a grant by the Vera Institute of Justice to address increasing incarceration rates in rural communities and the impact of jailing people who are mentally ill or substance abusers:

The $235,000 grant will allow faculty from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Social Work to develop a “research hub” and work with up to 15 rural Georgia counties to find ways to safely divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues from jails.

The Vera Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports criminal justice reform efforts in 40 states, awarded grants to UGA and Washington State University to develop what the Vera Institute envisions will become its Rural Jails Research and Policy Network.

Local jail populations in rural jurisdictions across America have grown dramatically over the past 45 years, according to the UGA researchers. Many of the minor offenses that land people in jail are the result of poverty, untreated mental illness or substance abuse, and a lack of access to diversionary programs designed to treat them.

The grant will allow the university to develop training programs to help communities make more informed decisions about jail versus treatment options. Participating counties will commit to attend training sessions, engage in discussions about criminal justice issues impacting their communities and share data among themselves and with the university.

The UGA hub will be developed by Sarah Shannon, associate professor of sociology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and Beverly Johnson, a faculty member in the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, a public service and outreach unit. Also on the project are Orion Mowbray, associate professor in the School of Social Work, and Holly Lynde, a fiscal analyst in the Vinson Institute.

“I’m excited about the collaboration that this grant is designed to build between UGA and 15 rural communities in Georgia,” Shannon said. “Criminal justice reforms at the state level in recent years have been impressive, but this research will bring much-needed attention to rural communities in Georgia. The goal is to help understand and address challenges facing local jails in a way that has not been done before.”

Dr. Shannon, a renowned expert on criminal justice reform, and colleagues from the Vinson Institute are undertaking very important work for the state and many of our most vulnerable communities. We wish them great success with this new research hub.

Image via Creative Commons.


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