Shlafer Program for Research on Criminal Justice & Health

Program Focus

Our team conducts both qualitative and quantitative research with marginalized children and families. Most of our work is at the intersections of criminal justice and health. Our research examines  the impacts of parental incarceration on child health and development, with an intentional focus on the experiences of pregnant women in prison. Other ongoing research projects include using existing youth surveillance data to examine associations between parental incarceration and children’s health and development (e.g., substance use, academic outcomes, mental health), and how involvement in other systems (e.g., juvenile justice, foster care) relates to youths’ outcomes (e.g., access to health services).

Our research has direct implications for practice and policy, and we regularly work on dissemination products for stakeholders beyond the university. We aim to understand the supports that help vulnerable youth and families thrive, and to that end, we also partner with other state agencies, including the family home visiting unit at the Minnesota Department of Health on evaluation and research projects. 

Current Projects

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Enhanced Pregnancy Support for People in Prison

Given their increased risk of prenatal and obstetric complications, providing pregnant incarcerated women with doulas – non-medical birth companions who provide individualized prenatal education and continuous labor support – may improve maternal, fetal, and infant outcomes. Our team has evaluated an innovative community-university-corrections partnership and demonstrated that doula support is a feasible intervention with incarcerated women. We have demonstrated promising maternal and neonatal outcomes among incarcerated women who received doula support, including very low rates of cesarean deliveries and few preterm or low-birth weight infants. In addition, we have integrated data from multiple sources to test the efficacy and assess the cost-benefits of doula care for incarcerated pregnant women. Our team continues research aimed at documenting the experiences of pregnant women in prison, their infants, and their infants caregivers, and identifying programs and policies to promote health equity among this marginalized group. 

Identifying and Addressing Disparities in the Criminal Justice and Health Care Systems – UMN Grand Challenges Initiative

While considerable attention has focused on the causes and consequences of mass incarceration, the majority of the criminal justice population is supervised through community supervision, particularly probation. Minnesota is a leading exemplar of this pattern; while Minnesota has the sixth lowest incarceration rate in the nation, our community supervision rate is the seventh highest. Probation and supervised release violations represent a large share of prison admissions, are a key driver of Minnesota’s rising incarceration rate in recent years, and disproportionately impact people from racial and ethnic minority groups. Individuals involved in the justice system are known to have high rates of chronic disease, mental illness, and substance use disorders. Despite the considerable health risks of those with criminal justice contact, how community-based criminal justice contact intersects with broader health disparities in our communities has been largely ignored. This project aims to use Hennepin County as a strategic case study to better understand the relationships among community supervision, health, and well-being. The team will use a mixed methods approach to understand the health and health care patterns of community supervisees, the impact of individuals’ well-being on completing community supervision requirements, and the impact of health and individuals’ wellbeing on completing community supervision requirements, and the impact of health and criminal justice disparities on communities of color in Minnesota. The work will result in evidence-based policy and programmatic recommendations to help communities achieve lasting changes in health and supervision practices that are more just and equitable.
See also: Robina Institute - Mass Probation and Health.

Health and Wellbeing among Minnesota Youth with Incarcerated Parents

Using secondary data from the Minnesota Student Survey (MSS), our team has conducted a number of studies exploring the health and wellbeing of Minnesota youth with a history of parental incarceration. We have used the MSS data to examine mental and physical health, substance use, and school outcomes among youth with incarcerated parents. We are currently using the MSS to explore protective factors among this population and intersections between parental incarceration and other systems youth may have contact with (e.g., foster care, juvenile justice).

Center for Research and Evaluation on Family Home Visiting – Minnesota Department of Health

Family home visiting (FHV) is a voluntary, home-based service ideally delivered prenatally through the early years of a child's life. FHV provides social, emotional, health-related and parenting support and information to families, and links them to appropriate resources. The aim of this Center is to develop a comprehensive research and evaluation agenda for the Minnesota Department of Health’s FHV section. We are also exploring innovative collaborations between FHV and criminal justice settings. 


Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescents Health

717 Delaware St. SE
Minneapolis, MN