TRI-Lab: Designing Education for Better Prisoner & Community Health

About the Issue

Among the many disparities between incarcerated and non-incarcerated individuals - including rates of incarceration by race, poverty, and education level - health outcomes are one of the most dramatic. Only 2% of the general population has some kind of drug dependence issue, as compared to over 50% of state prisoners and up to 90% of jail detainees. Diagnoses of mental illness are similarly disproportionate. Indeed, un- and under-treated mental illness and drug dependence drive the nation's epidemic of incarceration. And contribute to disproportionate disease burdens behind the walls - HIV rates are 4 to 5 times higher for incarcerated men and women than those in the community. For Hepatitis C, the rates are 9 to 10 times higher. But perhaps the most important statistic is that more than 95% of incarcerated individuals will eventually come home—their health is community health.

If addressing health disparities is necessary to challenging the status quo of mass incarceration in this country, then we must ask: What opportunities are there to provide a better education for incarcerated individuals and the marginalized, under-resourced communities from which the vast majority come and to which virtually all will return, especially around health issues? 

About the Lab

With support from the Swearer Center for Public Service and the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, the next TRI-LAB will examine this question by working to design better resources for health education both within the criminal justice system and in community settings that support former prisoners in the community. Working with students and faculty at Brown and RISD and with partners in the community, as well as currently and formerly incarcerated individuals, our hope is to develop participatory design strategies that produce better outcomes.

The “Designing Education for Better Prisoner and Community Health” TRI-Lab will be initiated by a multi-disciplinary course of the same name to be offered in Spring semester 2016. The course will be led by:

The course will provide the needed background and context for understanding the multiple issues and challenges facing current and former prisoners and the national justice and health systems that determine their fate. In addition to contextual background, the course will draw on participatory design strategies as well as principles of engaged scholarship where deep scholarship is strategically deployed in real world contexts: a marriage of theory and practice.

Students in the course will attain the knowledge and skills needed to design and develop a final practical, real world health communication/ intervention project that addresses one or more health literacy challenges facing justice involved people. Some of these final projects will be developed as prototypes in a multidisciplinary laboratory over summer 2016, when students from the course will design and test different health curricula and delivery modules. Interested students will work with the class professors in applying for funding in taking their course projects to the prototype stage. Successfully developed prototypes will then be deployed, tested, and evaluated in the Fall of 2016 including introduction at the Men’s Health Fair at the RI Adult Correctional Institutes in October 2016. 

Find out more about the TRI-Lab's learning objectives

In the NewsFourth TRI-Lab sets sights on improving prisoner health, Brown Daily Herald, November 13, 2015