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Building Financial Empowerment to Reduce Recidivism: An Effectiveness-Implementation Trial of a Money Management Intervention for Justice-Involved Individuals with Serious Mental Illness

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $431,406)

As lead applicant, The University of Alabama’s Forensic Assessment and Intervention Research (FAIR) program will pursue the goal of preparing, creating, and expanding a comprehensive plan to implement a collaboration program across mental health and criminal justice agencies that targets preliminarily qualified offenders and promotes public safety and public health for people with mental illness involved in the justice system.  


Justice-involved people with serious mental illness (SMI) face substantial barriers to personal and financial wellbeing. They are at high risk for financial destabilizers, including delayed social security benefit re-instatement upon re-entering the community, difficulty securing and maintaining employment, and homelessness. Financial debt is highly common among offenders, particularly those with SMI, and shares a complex relationship with crime: debt is a risk factor for crime, and crime is a risk factor for debt. Yet no interventions have assessed how financial empowerment may impact recidivism among this at-risk population. In Alabama, such a program is direly needed. The state ranks 7th in the nation for both the highest crime and highest poverty rates, and relative to most of the country, it allocates fewer resources to mental health services.  


In response to this solicitation, FAIR will join with mental health and criminal justice agencies in Alabama, including Indian Rivers Behavioral Health and the Jefferson, Tuscaloosa, and Shelby County Mental Health Courts to achieve three objectives: 1) Develop a financial empowerment program for justice-involved individuals with SMI informed by Risk-Need-Responsivity principles and research on SMI, financial instability, and crime, with the aim of reducing recidivism; 2) Provide programmatic support to execute the program; and 3) Provide capacity building to sustain the program.  


This ambitious project will produce many meaningful deliverables, but several warrant special mention. JMHCP’s return on investment will include: Findings from a 150-participant randomized controlled trial of the $teps for Achieving Financial Empowerment ($AFE) program, with recidivism as primary outcome; a revised $AFE program, informed by comprehensive quantitative and qualitative data, that will be disseminated to mental health and criminal justice stakeholders at project completion; distribution of policy papers; training of mental health and criminal justice agency staff in $AFE protocol via in-person and webinar formats; and the establishment of a $AFE volunteer facilitator program.

Date Created: December 6, 2021