Dr. Nabila El-Bassel, Willma and Albert Musher Professor of Social Work and director of the Social Intervention Group (SIG), and SIG's Co-director Dr. Louisa Gilbert have been awarded a five-year, $3.5m grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to test the efficacy of a couple-based intervention in preventing the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among male offenders on probation or court supervision and their female partners.

Based on the growing body of science supports the efficacy of couple-based risk reduction interventions to prevent HIV transmission, the study will involve a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of 240 drug-involved male offenders in the South Bronx and Brooklyn and their primary female sexual partners. It will be implemented by frontline providers in Criminal Court, Community Court, or Probation sites in the Bronx, New York City, and compared with standard treatment of care services.

“We will be recruiting participants from sites located in the South Bronx and Brooklyn,” says Dr. El-Bassel. “The South Bronx is the poorest Congressional District in the U.S. with 96% of residents identifying as Black or Latino, and has an HIV prevalence rate of 2.6%. Research has found that 12% of men on probation in New York City are HIV positive.”

According to Dr. El-Bassel, the study's results should yield yield important data on implementation factors associated with the effectiveness of the proposed intervention in real-world, resource-constrained criminal justice settings. "Though the criminal justice system is recognized as the epicenter of the epidemic in the U.S., few, if any, HIV prevention interventions have been developed for the huge number of male offenders under community supervision who now represent 90 percent of the corrections population," she says. "The study is designed to address this critical gap in services, and if found effective, may be scaled-up in community criminal justice settings nationwide to curb the spread of HIV/STIs and to reduce HIV disparities in heavily impacted communities like the South Bronx.”

The study will be conducted in collaboration with Michael Rempel from the Center for Court Innovation and the New York City Department of Probation and a number of investigators, including: Tim Hunt, Drs. Thomas D’ Aunno, Elwin Wu, and Susan Witte from Columbia University in collaboration with Dr. Ryan Edwards, New York Community College, and Dr. Steve Belenko, Professor at Temple University. Dr. Fredrick Altice, Professor of Medicine at Yale University, and Dr. Jennifer Wisdom, Senior Research Scientist at the Psychiatric Institute, will provide expertise on HIV research in the criminal justice system.

About the Social Intervention Group
SIG is a multidisciplinary research center at the Columbia University School of Social Work that works to develop and test effective prevention and intervention models and disseminate them to local, national, and international communities. SIG’s research addresses the co-occurring problems of HIV, drug abuse, intimate partner violence, and trauma.

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