Dr. Meghan Novisky is an Assistant Professor of Criminology at Cleveland State University. Her research investigates incarceration as a social determinant of health, how conditions of confinement structure health disparities, and the collateral consequences of criminal justice policy. Her research has been published in outlets including Criminology, Justice Quarterly, the British Journal of Criminology, Victims & Offenders, and the Journal of Correctional Health Care. Since 2009, Dr. Novisky has also worked in corrections as a consultant for the University of Cincinnati’s Corrections Institute (UCCI), where she trains correctional staff on the implementation of evidence-based rehabilitation programming. In response to COVID-19, she partnered with the ACLU by drafting expert declarations to urge release or transfer of medically vulnerable adults incarcerated in Ohio’s prisons and jails.
What are you most excited about, in your new role as Associate Editor for BMC’s Health & Justice, and which particular aspects of your criminology background are you most looking forward to harnessing, in your role?
Regarding my new role, I am most excited about working with a team of scholars who share a vision for highlighting research at the intersection of health and criminal justice. As for aspects of my criminology background that can be harnessed in this new role, I feel I can contribute most uniquely through my experiences in original data collection in criminal justice settings. For example, I have gathered data from people living in prisons at various security levels (e.g., minimum to super-max), from people recently returning to society from periods of incarceration (e.g., re-entry centers), and from people experiencing trauma and housing insecurity (e.g., domestic violence shelters). These populations can be difficult to reach and require significant protections be built into the methodology to ensure responsivity to the vulnerability of these groups. I can help lend expertise in these areas; one of my goals as Associate Editor is to target some of my feedback on helping authors increase the transparency of their data collection methods.
In your opinion, what is already known about the intersection between public health and criminal justice?
It is clear that criminal justice system contact is related to health and well-being. While individuals who come into contact with the criminal justice system tend to be at higher risk for health problems at baseline, however, the nature of their experiences with the criminal justice system can also set into motion risks that compound pre-existing health disparities. For example, people sentenced to periods of incarceration are more likely to experience mental health symptoms, but incarceration can exacerbate those symptoms if people witness violence, are victimized themselves, or are forced to live in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time while in prison.
Where do you think knowledge gaps in the field still lie, if any?
In my view, the biggest opportunities for expanding the literature involve documenting the health-related experiences of populations that are less often the focus of research studies. For example, older adults and females both represent growing and sizable segments of the carceral population. At the same time, correctional facilities are generally under-equipped to address their unique needs. Research has not kept pace with analyzing the unique experiences of these groups relative to younger incarcerated people and males.
In your opinion, are there justice-involved individuals who are under-represented in current research, that Health & Justice could further promote?
Yes. Research on the criminal justice system experiences of older adults and women is important to promote. Promoting the voices and expertise of justice-involved people is also critical. For example, I would like to see more research authored by scholars with justice involvement experiences, as well as more qualitative research that allows those with system involvement to influence research study findings and priority areas.
What would you say are the greatest issues facing the health and well-being of people involved in the justice system, at present?
I think the greatest issue facing the health and well-being of people involved in the justice system is the dehumanization process that occurs with system contact. In prison, people are assigned and referred to as a number rather than a name. The public is often apathetic about conditions of confinement and the barriers people face upon release. In short, people with criminal justice system involvement are exposed to many stressors, with generally poor support in place for coping with those stressors. This can wear on well-being over time, influence access to key health-related resources, and ultimately make it more difficult for people to have second chances.