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Ph.D. students receive community engagement fellowships

image of Anna Parisi
Anna Parisi

Parisi’s project, “Developing a Gender-Responsive Framework for Justice Involved People with Serious Mental Illness,” intends to examine gender differences in the treatment needs of men and women with serious mental illness (SMI) who are involved in the criminal justice system and participating in a mental health court in Orange and Chatham counties. Findings from this study will be used to help researchers and practitioners understand how correctional interventions delivered in community-based settings can better engage the needs of justice-involved men and women.

This study is significant, Parisi added, because over the past 40 years, women have become one of the fastest-growing correctional populations in the United States, with rates of serious mental illness that far exceed those of their male counterparts. However, most previous research has focused on justice-involved men without serious mental illness. Thus, very little is known about what potential treatments may help justice-involved women with SMI and keep them out of the criminal justice system, she said.

“It is inevitable that social workers who are providing clinical services will work with at least one woman who has current or former justice-involvement,” said Parisi, a community mental health clinician. “To best support this population, it is essential that, as social workers, we have an understanding of the factors contributing to the risk of recidivism among justice-involved women with SMI.”

Parisi is partnering with Caroline Ginley, program manager for the Community Resource Court, with the UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health, on the project. The study will build from a previous research study Parisi conducted under the leadership of social work associate professor Amy Blank Wilson. Wilson is also serving as a faculty mentor on this project.

Jordan’s project, “Improving the Perinatal Health of Survivors of Sexual Victimization,” focuses on improving the health equity of all mothers who are survivors of sexual abuse or assault. Partnering with her on the project are Melanie Patrick and Ashley Rankin Collins, owners of Emerald Doulas in Durham. Professor Mimi Chapman is serving as her faculty mentor.

image of Brooke Jordan
Brooke Jordan

The project will also bring together obstetric providers, mental health providers and staff from UNC Hospital’s Beacon Program, which provides coordinated care for survivors of abuse, to create a space to discuss the impact of past sexual victimization on the perinatal period. The study will focus closely on the needs of women in marginalized groups who are disproportionately affected by sexual victimization.

Jordan, a birth doula and a social work researcher who specializes in perinatal health for survivors of sexual victimization, said she has seen firsthand how difficult the perinatal experience can be for survivors. These challenges are exacerbated for this population due to the lack of targeted interventions in obstetric health, she said.

“This fellowship will bring together survivors, health professionals, doulas, and researchers to collaboratively explore promising strategies in reducing re-traumatization during the perinatal period,” she said.