Research & Biography

Matthew Epperson is an Associate Professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. His research centers on developing, implementing, and evaluating interventions to reduce disparities in the criminal justice system.  His primary area of focus is understanding and addressing person- and place-level risk factors for criminal involvement among persons with mental illnesses. Professor Epperson’s interests also include developing conceptual, evidence-based frameworks for effective and sustainable decarceration. His scholarship and teaching aim to build and advance the capacity of the social work profession to address these challenges and opportunities for criminal justice transformation.

Current Research Projects:

  • Advancing Intervention Science for Probationers with Serious Mental Illnesses (Principal Investigator).  This Mentored Research Scientist Development (K01) study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health entails developing and testing a novel intervention focused on criminal risk reduction and treatment adherence among probationers with serious mental illnesses.  
  • Implementation and Rigorous Testing of Deferred Prosecution Programs: A Multisite Study (Co-Principal Investigator). Funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, this study examines deferred prosecution programs in Cook County, Milwaukee County, and St. Louis. The project will lead to the design of a multisite randomized trial of this prosecutor-led innovation.
  • Smart Decarceration Initiative (Co-Founding Director). The purpose of this newly developed initiative is to stimulate cross-sector applied policy and behavioral intervention research that will reduce the incarcerated population in ways that are humane, socially just, and sustainable. Through the Smart Decarceration Initiative, Dr. Epperson is co-leading "Promote Smart Decarceration," one of twelve grand challenges for the social work profession. Through the Smart Decarceration Initiative, Dr. Epperson co-leads "Promote Smart Decarceration," one of 12 grand challenges for the social work profession. 
  • Promoting Behavioral Health within Communities to Reduce Criminal Justice Contact (Co-Principal Investigator). Funded through the NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) Consortium, the purpose of this study is to collaboratively engage with community stakeholders to develop an applied conceptual framework for building social capacity to better address the complex behavioral health needs of people with criminal justice involvement.
  • Evaluation: Justice and Mental Health Collaborative (Principal Investigator). A mixed methods process and outcome evaluation of a Bureau of Justice Assistance funded initiative being led by the Cook County Health and Hospital Systems and the Circuit Court of Cook County. 
  • Phase One Evaluation: Access to Community-Based Treatment (ACT) Court (Principal Investigator). This mixed methods study entails a preliminary evaluation of an innovative drug court targeting individuals with substance dependence at high risk of prison incarceration.

Professor Epperson teaches courses in direct social work practice, as well as a course that he designed entitled “Smart Decarceration: A Grand Challenge for Social Work.” He has over 15 years of post-MSW clinical and administrative social work experience in behavioral health and criminal justice settings.

Prior to joining SSA, professor Epperson was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Behavioral Health Services & Criminal Justice Research at Rutgers University's Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research. He received his Ph.D. with distinction from the Columbia University School of Social Work, a M.S.W. from Grand Valley State University, and a B.S. in Sociology/Criminal Justice from Central Michigan University.


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