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Around and About Corrections
By Philip Ephraim, PhD, Corrections Librarian at State Correctional Institution, Graterford, PA
Published: 06/11/2012

Sci grateford Philip Ephraim, the Corrections Librarian, at the State Correctional Institution, in Graterford, PA, had an exclusive interview with Dr Nancy Wolff, the lead researcher of the Rutgers Trauma Study going on in State Correctional Institution-Graterford, PA (SCI-Graterford) to get members of the community better informed about the project. Dr Nancy Wolff is the Professor of E.J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and Director, Center for Behavioral Health Services & Criminal Justice Research at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey.

Dr Philip Ephraim (PE) Hello Dr Wolff!
Dr Wolff (NW) Hi! Dr Ephraim

P E: What is a trauma?
NW: Trauma experiences are severe life events that can be directly experienced or witnessed. Most of these are event that overwhelm our senses and can alter behavior. They often occur unexpectedly and threaten life or safety and may cause feeling of helplessness or fear.

P E: What is the connection between trauma and incarceration?
NW: Our earlier research at New Jersey showed high rates of trauma among incarcerated men. The rates of trauma among incarcerated men are significantly higher that those found in the general population.

P E: You began the Rutgers Trauma Study at Graterford on March 5, 2012, what are the objectives of the study?
NW: The objectives of Rutgers Trauma Study are two-fold: (1) to screen for trauma and addiction - related problems among the men incarcerated at Graterford and (2) to study the effectiveness of two treatment programs designed for men with trauma and addiction problems.

P E: Why did you choose Graterford as the study site?
NW: Secretary Wetzel met with me and discussed the study. After he approved the study, we discussed possible locations. It was his opinion that Graterford made the most sense given its size, diversity, supportive staff, and our travel constraints.

P E: What types of trauma are you studying?
NW: Direct experiences of trauma as: being shot, stabbed, mugged or kidnapped, having your home vandalized, experiencing a home invasion, near drowning, car or motorcycle accident, or experiencing a natural disaster such as hurricane or earthquake. Example of witnessing trauma may include seeing someone else killed or tortured or a tragic accident. Our study used a broad definition of trauma including events that are witnessed or directly experienced, that occurred inside prison, in the community, and when the person was an adult or child.

P E: How many inmates would you invite to participate in the study?
NW: Approximately 700 men will be invited to participate in the screening and 240 in the treatment phase of the study.

P E: What research methods are you using in the study?
NW: We are using a variety of methods. All interviews with participants are conducted confidentially. Participants are asked questions on computer, face to face, by master-trained research staff, and in focus groups which are audio-tapped. All survey methods are conducted confidentially and have been approved by Rutgers International Review Board, the Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP) in Washington, D.C., and a Certificate of Confidentiality from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), as well as by the PADOC’s Research Review Board.

P E: What is the research design?
NW: There are two phases of the study. Phase 1 involves screening for trauma and addiction disorders. Participants are interviewed twice during this phase. In the second phase, participants are assigned two programs: Option 1 and Option 11. Each of these programs focuses on recovery from violence but in different ways. Each program meets twice s a week (90 minutes each meeting) for 12 weeks.

P E: What is the composition of your research staff?
NW: The research staff includes approximately 15 Rutgers employees, most of whom have masters or bachelor’s degree and five therapists, who have private practices in PA and NJ and expertise in PTSD and addiction disorders.

P E: What agency is funding the study?
NW: The National Institute of Mental Health.

P E: What are the likely benefits from this study?
NW: This is an empirical study so we cannot guarantee any positive benefits. If the programs are beneficial, participants are likely to gain by feeling better psychologically, feeling more empowered, able to meet daily challenges in healthier ways. Information from this study may also be useful in understanding what programs work best for incarcerated men who have experienced violence. If computerized screening is found reliable, screening software would be developed to effectively screen for trauma-related problems at admission to prison.

P E: From your perspective, what is the most challenging aspect of the project?
NW: Organizing all the moving part associated with a large field study. We have had outstanding support form the Supt, Wenerowicz, Deputy Harry, Majors Dohman and Fields, Gary Olinger, Suzanne Karpinski, Linda Shade, John Esposito, and the outstanding correctional staff assigned to us. We are working as a team and that makes it easier and more enjoyable, as well as productive.

P E: Are there prison trauma studies going on at other prisons in the US or abroad?
NW: Not to my knowledge.

P E: Thank you Dr Wolff for letting us have a better understanding of your study. I would be returning to take another snap shot of the project as it progresses.
NW: Thank you, Dr Ephraim.

Editor's note: Corrections.com author, Philip Ephraim, is a Corrections Librarian, at the State Correctional Institution, in Graterford, PA. He has served on numerous library committees.

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