Schnavia Smith Hatcher has never been arrested and yet she’s spent years in jails. She studies a population that is often overlooked-the more than 2 million people held in jails in this country.
Hatcher is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and a Lilly Fellow at UGA.
“I worked in the Atlanta City Jail before I went back for my Ph.D.,” she said. “And since then, all my research has centered around adults in jails and looking at the service delivery systems there and how offenders can successfully re-enter in the community and not return to jail.”
Because she saw a revolving door in the Atlanta jail of people who primarily needed medications to manage mental illnesses or who were drug abusers in need of treatment, Hatcher is particularly interested in those inmates who have mental health and substance abuse problems.
“There’s a park right by Underground Atlanta where people sit on the benches with nowhere to go,” she said. “Those are the people who are eventually arrested and brought to the Atlanta jail. And those are the people who have mental health issues and substance abuse problems. If only the officers had some place to take them other than jail.”
In some communities, including Athens, drug courts were designed as an alternative to incarceration for people arrested for possessing drugs, or for criminal or delinquent behavior.
“With the drug court here, if you’re sentenced you go through treatment on an outpatient basis. You go to various counseling sessions. You have to continue to take drug tests, and on a weekly basis you go back in front of the judge to report on your progress,” she said.
In the spring, Hatcher will help evaluate the success of the Athens drug court.
“The research that’s out there says drug courts have a positive effective and lower recidivism rates than incarceration,” she said. “But more research is needed.”
Hatcher is teaching “Evaluation of Family-Centered Social Work Intervention” at the Gwinnett Center.
“I really enjoy the evaluation courses because I like to marry practice and research when I teach them,” she said. “I use lots of clinical examples to help students see that they need to go to the literature to find the best practices for clients and not just do what’s always been done in their agencies.”
Hatcher recently received funding from the National Institutes of Health to study health disparities in the juvenile justice system.
“I’ve wanted to develop a link with juvenile justice because if we can help juveniles manage their mental health and substance abuse problems before they become adults, it may decrease their chances of going to jail, and then everyone in the entire community benefits,” she said.