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Recognizing Perspectives on Community Reentry from Offenders with Mental Illness: Using Afrocentric Framework and Concept Mapping with Adult Detainees

by Schnavia Smith Hatcher (2010).  Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 49(8): 536-550.

As a social worker teaching at the University of Georgia, Schnavia Smith Hatcher suggests that offenders with mental illness can enhance their social networks, social supports, and overall quality of health and life by developing client-based programs based on social work values within an Afrocentric framework.  In this article, she examines a group of jail-based offenders with mental illness for indicators of successful reentry, for service areas that help maintain these offenders in their communities, and the "congruency of ideas" existing between these offenders and those professionals and community members who assist them.

For this study, Smith Hatcher queried three groups in a Washington, DC jail: 22 offenders with mental illness housed in the jail's mental health unit because of referrals from prison- or community-based staff or because of their own self-referral; 10 offenders with mental illness housed in general population; and 11 mental health counselors, psychiatric nurses, corrections officers, or substance abuse counselors. All staff members were African-American and all offenders were people of color (90% African-American). Two offenders dropped out of the study so the final sample consisted of 30 offenders and 11 staff members.

Relying on these sources of information, Smith Hatcher finds "discrepancies in how jail service providers think certain outcomes and resources can be obtained, and how offenders with mental illness - clients of the community mental health system - perceive the ease of obtaining these outcomes. For social work and public health professionals to become essential figures within the system that delivers services to persons with mental illness in detention centers, the professions must adopt an expanded view of practice. Adhering to the Afrocentric framework, they should acknowledge the difficulty of achieving these indicators of success and create objectives and goals that facilitate the process of reintegration into the community. The statements provides by the inmate participants highly support the ideals of: 

  • The interconnectedness value of the paradigm;
  • The emphasis on spiritual development and growth to decrease social welfare problems; and
  • The affective approach to knowledge is epistemologically valid."

 Furthermore, this study stresses the need "to start where the client is," a concept central not only to Afrocentric views, but also to general social work perspectives. 

Smith Hatcher concludes, "Practitioners, policy makers, educators, and researchers must recognize that the subjective experiences of people with severe and persistent mental illness are important in formulating an effective response. By incorporating clients into this study, we learn that just referring the standard (limited) mental health resources from jail is not enough for offenders with mental illness to survive in the community. Services were requested that were directed toward their desire for independence, faith and spiritual development, health and social service needs, education, and social obligations. Based on these findings, this population wants optimal health care - consummate provision of services that cater to all aspects of their lives, which requires the best emotional health, [physical health, intellectual health, and spiritual health awareness."

For further information, contact Schnavia Smith Hatcher, School of Social Work, University of Georgia, 302 Tucker Hall, Athens, GA 30602-7016, (e-mail)


Posted Thu, Aug 4 2011 4:49 PM by Tracey Vessels
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