Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School of Social Work

First Reader/Committee Chair

Joseph, Rigaud


Despite the 2011 landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court ordering the California authorities to address prison overcrowding, the Golden State still faces significant challenges dealing with the size of its correctional population. Recidivism plays a preponderant role in slowing down the momentum toward overcoming relatively high rates of incarceration across the state. The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of key human services stakeholders about the intersection of three major challenges in the California criminal justice system: mental health, substance use, and recidivism. Embracing a continuum of care approach, this study ultimately attempted to explore whether there is a novel, meaningful way to tackle the three aforementioned problems and improve the said justice system. Many studies have highlighted the California recidivism problem; however, there is little research on the juncture of mental health, substance use, and recidivism in California through a continuum of care model. Interviews with 10 incarcerated individuals and reentry services providers revealed four major themes: (1) emotional pain from trauma is a catalyst for substance use and repeated criminal acts, (2) lack of mental health and substance use services is directly connected to emphasis on punishment instead of rehabilitation in the criminal justice system, (3) systemic and self-imposed barriers prevent the effective delivery of mental health and substance use services, and (4) there is a need for a continuum of mental health and substance use in the criminal justice system. This study concluded with a thorough discussion of its findings for theory, research, social work practice, and social work education.