Criminal Justice Initiative: Our research agenda

Author: Leigh Lynes

This is part two of a three-part series on criminal justice and LEO's work in this space. Read part one (Rethinking community corrections) and part three (Promising methods).


LEO is teaming up with criminal justice service providers across the country to improve the lives of those in community corrections as part of our Criminal Justice Initiative. True to our mission, we aim to identify and evaluate interventions that disrupt the cycle of recidivism to help justice-involved individuals lead more full and dignified lives. To do so, we’ll focus our attention on the following key areas: mental health and substance abuse, case management, and families.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment: A recent study found that over a third of inmates were using alcohol or drugs at the time of their offense.[1] Similarly, it’s estimated that over 60% of jail inmates suffer from substance abuse or dependence and nearly half have a formal mental disorder diagnosis.[2]

Existing research suggests that treatment strategies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are effective in helping individuals build an identity that’s separate from their offenses. Other emerging forms of therapy, such as eye movement desensitization, also show promising early results. By better understanding what types of treatments work—and by making them available to the people who need them the most—we can encourage a culture of healing, support, and justice in our local systems.

Case Management: Every person involved in the Criminal Justice system is unique. To enable successful community reentry, rehabilitative services must be tailored to meet clients’ specific needs. Comprehensive case management—an approach which matches individuals in need with intensive wrap-around services—has proven effective in other applications, including with homeless clients in supportive housing and for substance-dependent women.[3] That’s why we’re focusing on building evidence around mentorship and case management programs that focus on peer support and accountability.

We will also look closely at the process of reintegration–the transition from life behind bars back into the community. What makes for a successful transition? What challenges can derail an individual’s success? By observing the outcomes of people who participate in different types of support services, we can identify and share best practices for supporting reintegration in every unique circumstance.

The Role of Families and Community: Inmates aren’t the only ones affected by criminal justice involvement; their families also bear an enormous economic and emotional burden. They can also provide the support needed for the justice-involved to overcome their circumstances. Through our research, we aim to build evidence around programs that improve the life outcomes of entire families, breaking cycles of incarceration and poverty across generations.

Other community organizations outside the family unit also play a crucial role in rehabilitation. Today, the services offered by nonprofit and other private and public service organizations form the backbone of community corrections. But we know too little about the role these disparate organizations play in supporting and transforming the lives of those in jail or on probation or parole.


Today, recidivism is one of the largest issues facing our justice system: Five out of six state prisoners were arrested within nine years of their release.[4] Building evidence on effective treatment methods for those in community corrections can help us better provide the services individuals need to overcome the immense challenges they face to living a productive and crime-free life. Join us on our journey.


Read our full research agenda



[2] Turney, Kristin, and Emma Conner. 2019. “Jail Incarceration: A Common and Consequential Form of Criminal Justice Contact.” Annual Review of Criminology 2:265-290.

[3] See: Sadowski et al., 2009 and Morgenstern et al., 2001.