Mental Health and the Justice System in Durham County (2022-2023)


Mental illness is over-represented in the incarcerated population, and the Durham County Detention Facility is not an exception. Durham County has taken many steps to support mentally ill individuals, including establishment of a Crisis Intervention Team among law enforcement and first responders, community paramedics who perform home visits to those identified with active mental health issues, mental health services at the County Detention Facility, and follow-up upon release. 

While Durham has many programs that support people within the criminal justice system suffering from mental illness, it is essential to determine which programs are helpful to effectively deploy limited public resources. Medical services can also play an important role in supporting the most vulnerable citizens of our communities and alleviating the burden of the criminal justice system. 

Project Description

Building off the work of the 2021-2022 team, this project team will examine the trajectories and patterns of usage of medical and criminal justice services for those involved in the Durham County Criminal Justice System; explore the effects of local and state policies on recidivism and the use of mental health resources; and provide recommendations regarding the detention facility population’s needs and service usage.

Team members will conduct a longitudinal analysis of the incarceration data with an emphasis on examining specific policies and practices and test many hypotheses related to the impact of state and local policies on recidivism and mental health service utilization. The team will conduct analyses to understand the impact of COVID-19 on incarceration and health care utilization for the justice-involved population and provide policy recommendations to the Durham County Sheriff and Detention Facility, the Criminal Justice Resource Center and Crisis Intervention Team. 

The team will also develop a public-facing interactive timeline of policies relating to mental health services, drug laws and court policies as well as begin conducting an analysis of Durham’s cash bail policy.

Anticipated Outputs

Reports to stakeholders in Durham County; publications in peer-reviewed journals in the criminal justice/health field; public-facing interactive timeline

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will add 2 graduate students and 2 undergraduate students to work with continuing team members. Students should have a solid background in statistical/mathematical sciences (at least 1-2 statistics courses) and previous experience coding in R, along with interests in psychology or neuroscience, mental health, criminal justice and public policy. An interest in doing work that is messy, yet highly relevant to the needs of our community, is a must. Prospective team members should demonstrate enthusiasm for the topic and be willing to learn, step outside of their comfort zone and work on a team.

Students will gain experience working with real-world data, reporting to stakeholders, preparing research for publication and working as a part of a large team. Team members will also gain experience using modern statistical methods to analyze complex real-world data, such as longitudinal modeling, interactive data-presentation methods, and spatial information analysis and mapping with ArcGIS. Graduate students will improve their skills in project management, teaching and leadership; communicate with stakeholders; and prepare research for publication. 

A graduate student will be selected to serve as project manager.

See the related Data+ project for Summer 2022. Undergraduate applicants must be able to commit to both the Data+ team and the year-long project team. Interested applicants may apply using the Bass Connections application or the Data+ application.


Fall 2022 – Spring 2023

  • Fall 2022: Continue data analysis; prepare manuscripts for publication; conduct regular journal clubs; continue stakeholder reporting
  • Spring 2023: Prepare manuscripts for publication; continue stakeholder reporting


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters

See related Data+ summer project, Mental Health and the Justice System in Durham County (2022), and earlier related team, Mental Health and the Justice System in Durham County (2021-2022).


Image: Art installation outside Durham Police Department headquarters


Team Leaders

  • Nicole Schramm-Sapyta, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
  • Maria Tackett, Arts & Sciences-Statistical Science

/graduate Team Members

  • Jose Pliego San Martin, Statistical Science - MS

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Kexin Feng
  • Luong Huynh, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Isabella Larsen, Psychology (AB), Public Policy Studies (AB2)
  • Maya Pandey

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Michele Easter, School of Medicine-Psychiatry: Social and Community Psychiatry

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Durham County Detention Facility
  • Criminal Justice Resource Center