FSU College of Social Work to launch re-entry initiative with $1M grant

The initiative will be led by FSU’s new faculty hire, Carrie Pettus-Davis.

Florida State University’s College of Social Work will launch an unprecedented research initiative this spring focusing on the re-entry of incarcerated persons into communities.

The initiative will be led by FSU’s new faculty hire, Carrie Pettus-Davis, one of social work’s leading experts in criminal justice and the decarceration of American prisons and jails through policy reform and service innovations.

The research initiative will include a four-state, eight-site, randomized controlled trial involving more than 1,000 participants in a mix of urban and rural communities. The four participating states are Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. Pettus-Davis recently developed the model in collaboration with other researchers, practitioners and formerly incarcerated colleagues.  

“Data can inform significant reform,” Pettus-Davis said. “Our research initiative is uniquely positioned to identify the types of re-entry services most effective for reducing recidivism, fostering productive citizenship and benefiting individuals and communities across the country.” 

Pettus-Davis, currently an assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, will join Florida State’s social work faculty in the summer of 2018. At Washington University, she is the founder and director of center-based initiatives focused on criminal justice innovations. She also co-leads the Promote Smart Decarceration Grand Challenge network — one of the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work identified by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare.

“Criminal justice reform is a crucial civil rights issue for tens of thousands of Americans who have been swept up in the era of mass incarceration,” said Jim Clark, dean of the FSU College of Social Work. “Dr. Pettus-Davis’ empirical research to test an innovative model for re-entry is a significant step toward healing and hope for those men and women and their families.”

Through her research and initiatives, Pettus-Davis has engaged a growing base of policymakers, business leaders, funders, advocates, practitioners, formerly incarcerated individuals and scholars in criminal justice innovations for debate and testing.

The Charles Koch Foundation will provide the seed funding to begin the re-entry initiative at Florida State University through a $1 million grant. The Foundation supports students and scholars across the country exploring issues related to economic and civil liberties, including criminal justice reform.

“We’re proud to continue supporting FSU and its scholars working to close the gap between research and reform,” said John Hardin, director of university relations for the Charles Koch Foundation. “The vast majority of those who are incarcerated will return to society, and Professor Pettus-Davis’ research plays a critical role in identifying the most effective methods and programs to ensure that upon release they have every chance of success.”

Pettus-Davis’ research concentrates on working with community partners to develop and research interventions that enhance positive social support, respond to trauma experiences among justice-involved adults and generate overall well-being for those impacted by incarceration. 

She will continue her efforts upon joining the faculty of the FSU College of Social Work — transforming policy and practices to reduce racial, economic and behavioral health disparities within the criminal justice system.