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Research, Community Impact

Innovative Program May Reduce Substance Use Among Formerly Incarcerated Men

July 08, 2024

image of black male looking at phone in suburban area


A study led by Liliane Cambraia Windsor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign School of Social Work has demonstrated significant reductions in alcohol and substance use among formerly incarcerated men. The study used a unique combination of critical dialogue and capacity-building projects, offering new hope for communities dealing with high rates of substance use and its consequences.

Key Findings

The study involved 602 men with histories of substance use disorders (SUD) and incarceration. Peer-delivered critical dialogue (CD) and capacity-building projects (CBP) were particularly effective in reducing substance use when participants attended sessions consistently.

Rationale for Testing Community Wise for Men with Histories of Incarceration and SUD

In the United States, most formerly incarcerated individuals self-identify as men. People released from incarceration often return to predominantly Black and historically marginalized communities that have been neglected by governments and private investments. This neglect results in insufficient social services and high rates of poverty, crime, and unemployment. The compounded effects of racism, classism, and heteronormative stereotypes of masculinity lead to elevated socioeconomic and health-related needs among these men, including disease prevention and health care, housing, and employment.

Addressing Social Determinants of Health

Most interventions focus on changing individual behavior, but this study used critical consciousness (CC) theory, promoting reflection on social, political, and economic conditions and encouraging civic engagement. This approach addresses the broader social determinants of health (SDOH).

Study Design and Results

A 24 full factorial experiment evaluated the effects of various intervention components on substance use. A modified intent-to-treat analysis, accounting for attendance rates, supported the inclusion of CD and CBP, facilitated by trained peers (TPFs). The combination of CD and CBP led to significant reductions in substance use over five months.

Future Directions

Researchers plan to:

  • Improve attendance rates.
  • Test the optimized intervention in broader settings.
  • Develop effective implementation strategies.
  • Examine community-level outcomes like cohesion and project success.
  • Investigate the impact of facilitator demographics on results.


This study underscores the importance of community involvement and peer support in addressing substance use disorders. The optimized intervention, costing approximately $138 per person, is a cost-effective, scalable solution with the potential for substantial impact.

Read the full article.

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