Anthropology journal highlights work of NAU researchers with focus on criminal justice, population health

Oct. 29, 2019

Practicing Anthropology cover page

Health equity issues do not stop during incarceration—in fact, they worsen. Through a collaborative effort, Northern Arizona University researchers from seven departments are working together to examine health care inequities for people who are incarcerated.

Initial results of their work came together in the fall 2019 issue of the journal Practicing Anthropology—titled “Health Disparities in Jail Populations”––dedicated to highlighting the work of NAU researchers in the local community, with Robert T. Trotter II serving as the special guest editor. Trotter is a Regents’ Professor of Anthropology at NAU and the research infrastructure core lead for the Southwest Health Equity Research Collaborative (SHERC), an initiative of NAU’s Center for Health Equity Research (CHER).

“The special issue of Practicing Anthropology provides the researchers an opportunity to actively promote a more holistic approach to mitigating the impact of incarceration on people and communities, using a community engaged model that addresses the need for collective impact on a serious public health problem,” Trotter said.

The issue features seven articles from a single complex project and four commentaries and was a partnership between NAU, the Coconino County Health District, the Coconino County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and The NARBHA Institute. Topics range from health disparities among jail populations to the ethics of working with incarcerated populations.

The project represents an interdisciplinary collaboration at NAU, including CHER, the Department of Anthropology, the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the Department of Psychological Sciences, the Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training, the Human Research Protection Program (HRPP), the Department of Biological Sciences and the School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems.

Ricky Camplain, assistant professor of health sciences, who wrote a commentary along with Julie Baldwin, CHER director and Regents’ Professor, said that in seeking solutions to improve health equity and social justice in the criminal justice system, it is critical to first understand the jail system, which is distinguished from prisons by length of a stay.

“Because we have learned in research, practice and in all sectors that working in silos does not work, there has been a growing interest among health and justice system leaders to work together to pursue both health equity and social justice,” Camplain said. “The ‘Health Disparities in Jail Populations’ research study is a fantastic example of a collaboration between a true interdisciplinary group, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and an interdisciplinary group here at Northern Arizona University.”

The editor-reviewed journal is published by the Society for Applied Anthropology. Though not an NAU publication, editor Lisa Hardy is an associate professor of anthropology at NAU and a medical anthropologist. Meeting the health needs of people who are incarcerated through a multidisciplinary approach is a method Hardy supports. She coordinated with Trotter to guest-edit the issue, and she said the topic falls in line with the publication’s mission.

Hardy said Practicing Anthropology is not a typical peer-reviewed journal, but instead is a publication that enters a conversation with social scientists working in the field.

“I highlight projects that demonstrate collaborations where scientists and community partners work together toward the end goal of social justice,” Hardy said. “When Bob approached me with his idea of guest-editing this special issue, I saw value in the idea because the collection of papers provides a nice example of how interdisciplinary work can look.”

Marie Peoples, deputy county manager for Coconino County and a member of the NAU Institutional Review Board, wrote a commentary for the issue.

“The continual exploration of the intersections of health, social determinants of health and race is critical and represents the awareness and willingness to undertake challenging societal issues,” Peoples said.

“My hope is that as we learn more about the long-term impacts of generational poverty, institutional racism and mental health, strategic interventions will be developed to intercede prior to incarceration for populations that have traditionally received services outside of detention.”

For more information on Practicing Anthropology, visit the journal’s website or access it through the Cline Library website.

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Lisa Dahm
Center for Health Equity Research