Office of

College of Human Medicine

Office of

Justice-Involved Populations and Public Health
200 East 1st Street Room 332
Flint MI 48502
810 600 5669

Johnson-head-shot thumbI am a clinical psychologist who conducts NIH-funded randomized trials of effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and implementation of mental health and substance use interventions for high-risk women (including pregnant and postpartum women) and justice-involved populations (such as prisoners and jail Jennifer Johnson_ PhD imagedetainees). I have been Principal Investigator of eight NIH awards, with overall total costs of more than $14 million. I attended Brigham Young University (BS Applied Physics, 1995 and PhD Clinical Psychology, 2004). I completed my clinical internship at Palo Alto VA Medical Center from 2003-2004, and a T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship in Treatment Research from 2004-2006 at Brown University Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior (DPHB). I served as a faculty member at Brown's DPHB from 2006-2015, and became an Associate Professor in the MSU College of Human Medicine (Flint Campus) in January 2015 as a C. S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health.

My research efforts in Flint will help to improve access to and funding for high-quality mental health and substance use treatment services for vulnerable citizens here, in the state, and nationally. I especially work with those who face stigma (pregnant substance users, justice-involved men and women, sex workers), and who are often judged by society to be undeserving to receive the mental health and substance use services and necessities (safe, sober housing; protection from additional violence) that they need to function and to recover. I include cost-effectiveness analyses in my research to try to make a business case for needed services for these individuals. Prior research has shown that a good business case can change public policy when appeals to logic or compassion do not.

For example, the U.S. incarcerates the most people of any country in the world, both per capita and in absolute numbers. Previous research has shown that substance use treatment is more effective at reducing substance use and crime than incarceration is for most people, and that it costs society much less money to provide substance use treatment than incarceration. However, policies around incarceration change slowly. Many people do not realize that the justice system has a public health mandate in addition to a public safety mandate (i.e., to reduce crime), or realize how many lives of those with serious health problems (including mental health, addiction, HIV) this system touches each year. For example, the three largest mental health treatment facilities in the country are jails. The U.S. jails have 12,000,000 admissions per year; most individuals admitted to jail have mental health problems, addiction problems, or both. They are also disproportionately poor, minority, and likely to have been victims of violence. Many of them are veterans with PTSD, addiction, or other related difficulties. Voters tend not to realize the degree to which the health of these individuals is community health, given how many of their neighbors (1 in 34) are justice-involved, and how many leave prisons and jails to rejoin communities that take on the costs of their untreated health conditions. These factors--and others--combine to produce low public investment in offender health. My research works to make a business case for needed mental health and substance use services.

One of my current studies taking place in Flint (funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Justice) is based on data showing that 10 percent of all suicides in the U.S. occur when, or soon after, someone has contact with the justice system. My team, here in Flint, along with my colleague, Lauren Weinstock and her team at Brown University, is testing the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a strategy to provide suicide prevention to people when they are initially arrested and booked into jail (and not necessarily even charged with a crime). The next step in this strategy is to connect them to community mental health and substance use services when they are bailed out of jail a few days later. If the strategy we are testing is as effective in jails as it has been in emergency departments, using it in jails could reduce five to nine percent of all U.S. suicides.

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