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Summaries of RCT Grants

RCT of Therapeutic Communities and Interactive Journaling in Florida state prisons

This is a three-arm randomized controlled trial (RCT) evaluating the effectiveness of two different interventions for men and women soon to be released from prison with substance use disorders: Therapeutic Communities and Interactive Journaling.

Grant Recipient: Florida State University Research Foundation

Term: 2018 –2026

Principal Investigator: Stephen Tripodi, Ph.D., Florida State University
Carrie Pettus-Davis, Ph.D., Washington University in St. Louis

Funding: $480,254

Summary: This is a three-arm randomized controlled trial (RCT) evaluating the effectiveness of two different interventions for men and women soon to be released from prison with substance use disorders: Therapeutic Communities and Interactive Journaling. The study will compare both of these programs to a treatment-as-usual control group, which will receive counseling sessions over a 4-month period.

The first program, Therapeutic Communities, consists of specialized units within a prison to house inmates with substance use disorder. Therapeutic Communities encourage substance-free living through a system of established routines, hierarchies of earned privileges, and strict rules and associated sanctions and incentives for behavior. Prisoners are provided with services that include but are not limited to individual and group counseling, and training in pro-social behaviors. Prior RCTs and quasi-experimental studies of TCs have produced positive impacts on incarceration rates, re-arrest, criminal activity, and illegal drug use.

The second program, Interactive Journaling, is a 24-week directed journaling curriculum – comprised of weekly group sessions, regular journal assignments, and drug treatment resources – which aims to reduce substance use and related behavioral problems. An RCT testing Interactive Journaling with a sample from a county jail found that it produced reductions in the likelihood of being re-booked for a new criminal offense during the year after receiving services.

The new study will randomly assign approximately 2,490 prisoners with substance abuse disorders who are within 15-48 months of their scheduled release in three Florida prisons to receive (i) Therapeutic Communities, (ii) Interactive Journaling, or (iii) treatment as usual services. This study will measure the interventions’ respective impacts on 3-year recidivism rates – specifically, the likelihood of a new conviction or technical violation that results in incarceration to a state prison or county jail – using administrative data from the Florida Department of Corrections.

The study’s pre-specified analysis plan is linked here.

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