Nabila El-Bassel & Lisa Metsch

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced funding for a new research training program at Columbia University’s School of Social Work and its Mailman School of Public Health. Pre- and post-doctoral fellows at the schools will conduct bio-socio-behavioral HIV and drug abuse prevention, treatment, and care research in the criminal justice system.

Lead investigators are Willma and Albert Musher Professor Nabila El-Bassel at the School of Social Work and Stephen Smith Professor Lisa R. Metsch at the Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. Metsch chairs the Mailman School’s Department of Sociomedical Sciences. CSSW Associate Professor Elwin Wu is the Training Program Director.

Currently, 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the United States. The number of adults under correction supervision has recently peaked at over 7.2 million—a three-fold increase since 1980. Over the past decade, the criminal justice system has been recognized as an epicenter of the HIV epidemic in the U.S.

Columbia’s multidisciplinary collaboration builds upon research and education underway at both schools and brings together 32 faculty members who will participate in interdisciplinary mentoring.

The training program places a strong emphasis on improving the lives and health of individuals in alternatives-to-incarceration programs and under community supervision, including diversion programs, probation, community and drug courts. This includes the research on health disparities and policies affecting mass incarceration, a critical problem in many states.

“The training program is well positioned at Columbia, given its geographic location in New York City, which ranks high amongst cities that have the greatest rates of incarceration and community supervision of racial/ethnic minority groups, as well as the highest rates of HIV and drug abuse,” said Dr. El-Bassel. “Moreover, Columbia has recently identified enhancing criminal justice curriculum, research, and training as one of the university’s top priorities.”

Dr. Metsch noted: “Our collaboration will have an impact on criminal justice curricula not only at the Schools of Public Health and Social Work, but university-wide, and will attract new faculty and students.” She added that all incoming Mailman School Sociomedical Sciences doctoral students are now funded through training programs, an increasingly appropriate model for supporting doctoral-level education.

The project has been funded by NIH/NIDA for a five-year period. The first fellows will arrive in fall of 2014.

Image: Dr. Nabila El-Bassel; Dr. Lisa Metsch; “Unequal Justice in America,” by DonkeyHotey (CC).

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