Senior Research Associate
Robert Dunigan, Ph.D., is a senior research associate at the Schneider Institute for Health Policy at Brandeis University. With 15 years experience in clinical social work, and a particular expertise in the areas of treatment intervention and program development for individuals diagnosed with chronic mental illness and substance abuse problems, his research has focused on drug and alcohol treatment and prevention aimed at improving the quality of life and health service needs of marginalized groups and individuals. He is also interested in conducting research aimed at understanding barriers to participation in clinical studies for communities of color in order to develop more effective recruitment and retention strategies, particularly for individuals not connected to formal heath and social institutions.
Dr. Dunigan received his Ph.D. from the Heller School at Brandeis University were he was a recipient of a predoctoral training grant from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Prior to receiving his Ph.D., Dr. Dunigan was a research associate at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Social Medicine, working on an Exploratory Center project on health promotion for ethnic minority elders with dementia and their caregivers. He also was the coordinator of community development activities where he developed an academic working group on minority aging and health designed to promote opportunities for minority aging and health research. When he first joined Brandeis, Dr. Dunigan was involved in an exploratory project that addressed potential barriers to the development and experimental assessment of alcohol risk management and harm reduction programs for minority elders residing in public housing and other congregate settings. Dr. Dunigan was an investigator on a diversity supplement to the Brandeis/Harvard Center on Drug Abuse Treatment and Managed Care that examined the impact of profiling and incentives of treatment providers for minority consumers. Dr. Dunigan was the principal investigator on a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded study that examined the impact of substance abuse treatment pre-and post-release from prison and time to recidivism for young African-American and Latino male offenders.
Currently, Dr. Dunigan is the PI on a NIDA-funded study that examines factors that predict whether African-American male and female offenders in the general population receive substance abuse treatment, and the impact this has on re-arrests and re-incarceration. Dr. Dunigan is also an evaluator of two SAMHSA-funded HIV and substance abuse prevention projects addressing these issues in minority populations.
African-American and Latino males are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, with high rates of felony drug convictions. Once returned to the community, they are at greater risk for homelessness, unemployment, relapse and recidivism. Poor rates of engagement and retention in substance abuse treatment, along with limited community supportive resources during re-entry, present significant barriers for positive treatment outcomes for young African-American and Latino male offenders. The project’s specific aims are to: 1) examine rates and determinants of engagement in substance abuse treatment while incarcerated for young African-American and Latino males; 2) examine rates and determinants of engagement in treatment post release for young African-American and Latino males; and 3) examine rates and determinants of length of time to recidivism for young African-American and Latino males. The full set of hypotheses can be summarized as: 1) younger African-American and Latino males will be less likely to engage in treatment in prison and in the community, and will recidivate sooner, than their older counterparts; and 2) young African-American and Latino males will be less likely to engage in treatment in prison and in the community, and will recidivate sooner, than their White counterparts. This study examines the impact of substance abuse treatment as offenders are processed through the continuum of services within the criminal justice system and during re-entry into the community.The project method uses administrative data from Connecticut’s Department of Corrections, merged with data from Connecticut’s Substance Abuse Treatment Information System (SATIS), logistic regressions will assess the ability of key variables to predict treatment engagement and program completion. The study will also use a survival analysis model (Cox Regression) to model time to recidivism.
My New Connections Experience
My overall goal is to conduct quantitative and qualitative research on drug and alcohol treatment and prevention aimed at improving the quality of life and health service needs of marginalized groups and individuals. I am interested in working with administrative data sets on both the individual and provider level that address the psychosocial and behavioral determinants of well being for communities of color as factors associated with drug and alcohol abuse and related problems are complex and overlapping and a multi-contextual approach is often warranted. My goals are to explore theories and methodological approaches that are culturally relevant in explaining substance abuse and dependency for minority sub-groups. I hope to further develop the skills and knowledge that will allow me to effectively study these problems, to refine the available theoretical frameworks and to consider how to develop effective policies and treatment strategies to address these issues. I applied for an RWJF New Connections award because I felt that it would be enormously beneficial to my professional growth and assist in furthering my substance abuse treatment and prevention research agenda. I also felt that the New Connections support would further enhance my development as an independent researcher. In particular, it would allow for me to grow in two important areas. First, I would be able to continue to learn about current developments in the study of race, age and gender within the context of substance abuse treatment and criminal justice systems. Second, it would assist in the expansion of my knowledge of statistical methods to better differentiate organizational and individual level influences on substance abuse treatment outcomes for young African-American and Latino male offenders.
The RWJF project has also been the catalyst for a recent National Institute on Drug Abuse R03 grant, which was awarded on June 15, 2008. The NIDA R03 is an extension of the RWJF New Connections initiative project, which focused on substance abuse treatment utilization and predictors of re-arrest and re-incarceration for young African-American and Latino males (as required under the RWJF topic areas). The NIDA project utilizes the same data set and expands the focus of the previous analyses to include all African-American males involved with the Connecticut Department of Corrections, and examines the relationships between substance abuse treatment participation and recidivism. The NIDA study also includes subgroup comparisons of African-American, White, and Latino males and females in the general prison population in order to better understand disparities in treatment outcomes and incarceration.
Behavioral Health and Social Policy; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Prevention and Treatment for Minority Populations; Health Care Access for Older Adults and Adolescents.
- New Connections Status: Junior Investigator
- Award Year: 2007
- RWJF Team/Portfolio: Vulnerable Populations
- Project Name: Treatment Engagement and Time to Recidivism for Young African-American and Latino Male Offenders