Mental Health and the Justice System in Durham County (2023-2024)


Mental illness is over-represented in the incarcerated population. In Durham, many stakeholders across the law enforcement and health sectors have a long-standing interest in this issue and have been working for many years to reduce the incidence of incarceration in those with mental illness. 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 effective so officials can make informed decisions about how to deploy limited public resources.

Project Description

Using data from the Durham County Detention Facility (DCDF) merged with data from Duke Health, this multiyear project has been working to inform stakeholders in the criminal justice system of the extent, usage patterns, medical needs and insurance status of individuals with needs that lie at the intersection of mental health with criminal justice. 

Over the past four years, this project has collaborated with DCDF to develop a rich dataset involving all bookings into the DCDF, and all Duke Health encounters of individuals diagnosed with mental illness from 2014 to 2021. This includes over 23,000 individuals who were booked at least once in the time period, over 17,000 of whom were also seen at Duke Health at least once during that time.

In 2023-2024, team members will use descriptive and analytical statistical methods — such as interactive visualizations, logistic regression and longitudinal modeling — to analyze health insurance as a factor in outcomes related to both rearrest and health. This will include extensively cleaning the insurance data to prepare it for analysis and incorporating it into the current models and interactive visualizations. As the team digs into the insurance data, members will develop new questions that will inform additional analyses.

Anticipated Outputs 

Website with interactive visualizations; scholarly publications relating to mental health and incarceration; student presentations at national meetings

Student Opportunities 

Ideally, this project team will include 2 graduate students and 6 undergraduate students. Applicants may be from any major, including but not limited to statistics, computer programming, psychology, neuroscience, sociology and public policy. Prospective applicants should be enthusiastic about the subject matter and willing to learn.

Students will develop skills in statistical analyses using R programming language; learn how to design research questions and develop strategies to address them; prepare findings for publication in scholarly journals; and develop skills to translate findings to a lay audience of stakeholders.

Graduate students will gain skills in project management, leadership and team building, and they will have opportunities to publish their work and interact with stakeholders.

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

See the related Data+ project for Summer 2023. This summer component is required. All applicants for the year-long project team must also participate on the Data+ team. Interested students may apply through either the Bass Connections application or the Data+ application.


Summer 2023 – Spring 2024

  • Summer 2023 (required): Data+ students: Gain familiarity with the dataset and statistical methods
  • Fall 2023: Develop research questions and proceed with data preparation and analyses
  • Spring 2024: Continue analyses and prepare findings for publication


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

This Team in the News

Deep Commitments to Students and Community Drive Winners of Leadership Award

Meet the Members of the 2023-2024 Student Advisory Council

See related Data+ summer project, Mental Health and the Justice System in Durham County (2023), and earlier related team, Mental Health and the Justice System in Durham County (2022-2023).


Image: Bare Tree/Durham, by Nathan Walls, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0  

Exterior view of Durham County Detention Facility with bare tree in winter in front.

Team Leaders

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

/graduate Team Members

  • Madeline Brown, Medicine MD Second Year, Masters of Public Policy
  • Sanskriti Purohit, Statistical Science - MS

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Irene Biju
  • Jordan Hamelsky, Statistical Science (BS)
  • Foxx Hart, GCS in Literature Program (AB)
  • William Lieber, Linguistics (AB)
  • Maya Pandey, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Zoe Svec, Statistical Science (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

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

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Justice Services Department
  • Alliance Healthcare
  • Durham County Sheriff's Office
  • Durham Crisis Intervention Team