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.  
  • Smart Decarceration Initiative (Co-Founder and Faculty 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.
  • Criminal Risk Factors among Persons with Serious Mental Illnesses in Mental Health Treatment Settings (Principal Investigator). This mixed-methods study aims to build the knowledge base on addressing criminal risks among persons with serious mental illness in mental health treatment settings.
  • Formative Evaluation: Mental Health Treatment Center (Principal Investigator). This project will develop a logic model and framework for rigorous evaluation for a newly developed program targeting people with mental illnesses preparing to discharge from the Cook County Jail.
  • 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.

Completed Projects:

  • Comparative Evaluation of Court-based responses to Offenders with Mental Illnesses (Principal Investigator). This four-year study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, consisted of a mixed-methods evaluation of three criminal justice interventions in Cook County, Illinois: Mental health court, specialized mental health probation, and standard probation.
  • Evaluation of New Jersey Probation Specialized Mental Health Caseload (Co-Principal Investigator).  A process and outcome evaluation funded by the National Institute of Justice.
  • Multimedia HIV/STI Prevention for Drug-Involved Female Offenders (Co-Investigator). A behavioral intervention randomized control trial funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  • A Computerized Service Tool to Address Partner Abuse Among Women in Drug Court (Co-Investigator). An intervention development study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Professor Epperson teaches courses in direct social work practice, as well as a course that he designed entitled “Criminal Justice and Social Work Interface.” He has over 15 years of post-MSW clinical and administrative social work experience in mental health, substance abuse, 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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