Poster Session
Issue Date: July 01, 2015
Published Online: February 09, 2016
Updated: January 01, 2020
Scope of Occupational Therapy in the U.S. Criminal Justice System
Author Affiliations
  • Duquesne University
  • Duquesne University
  • Duquesne University
  • Duquesne University
Article Information
Evidence-Based Practice / Health and Wellness / Education of OTs and OTAs / Mental Health / Pediatric Evaluation and Intervention / Rehabilitation, Participation, and Disability / Health Services Research and Education
Poster Session   |   July 01, 2015
Scope of Occupational Therapy in the U.S. Criminal Justice System
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2015, Vol. 69, 6911510219.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, July 2015, Vol. 69, 6911510219.

Date Presented 4/18/2015

In this study, we describe the presence of occupational therapists (OTs) in the U.S. criminal justice system; define primary practice models, assessments, and intervention approaches used by OTs in corrections; and delineate pedagogical strategies used to train students and the range of topics that occupational therapy researchers are examining in correction settings.

SIGNIFICANCE: The criminal justice system is an emerging area of practice in which occupational therapy clinicians, educators, and researchers often feel isolated and without a professional peer group. To build occupational therapy’s presence within the criminal justice system and to establish a network, it is important to identify the range of occupational therapy educational, practice, and research efforts in correctional settings. In this research, we generate a baseline snapshot of occupational therapy in the U.S. criminal justice system and build momentum to create an occupational therapy corrections network.
INNOVATION: Occupational therapists (OTs) in the United States have been slow to develop practice opportunities in the criminal justice system. Canadian, Australian, and British OTs have a stronger presence in their countries’ criminal justice systems, and they have begun efforts to network and connect OTs working in correctional settings (Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, 2013). This research effort may help push occupational therapy educators, clinicians, and researchers to develop evidence-based, occupation-focused interventions for the burgeoning corrections population. In this study, we attempted to answer the following research question: What is the current scope of OTs’ presence (education, practice, research) in the criminal justice system?
Correctional settings include prisons, jails, probation departments, youth facilities, forensic hospitals, drug and alcohol treatment centers, and community corrections facilities. In 2012, more than1.6 million people were incarcerated in the United States (Carson & Golinelli, 2013). When you add those individuals on probation/parole, this number climbs to nearly 7 million (Glaze & Herberman, 2013). In 2012, more than 635,000 people were released into the community (Carson & Golinelli, 2013). The majority reoffend and are rearrested within 3 yr after release (Muñoz, 2011). OTs have the knowledge and skill sets to address this population’s needs. U.S. practitioners are generating evidence to show that occupational therapy programs help ex-offenders reestablish adaptive occupational functioning and reduce recidivism (Eggers, Muñoz, Sciulli, & Crist, 2006; Muñoz, 2011; O’Connell & Farnworth, 2007).
METHOD: In this study, we use a descriptive survey research design with a self-serve, online survey platform. Participants included OTs who practice, research, create, and/or supervise educational training experiences in criminal justice settings. We generated a database based on a literature review of occupational therapy in corrections and solicitation of participants at the 2013 and 2014 American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Annual Conferences. Using snowball sampling processes, we identified additional participants (current N = 57).
We used a 30-item online survey to assess types of experiences, settings, practice models used, evaluation strategies, group and 1:1 interventions used, areas of research inquiry, and pedagogical training methods. Descriptive statistics were used when appropriate. Iterative code–recoding processes and constant comparative analysis were used to analyze qualitative data.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSION: Preliminary data reveal that (1) OTs operate in a variety of criminal justice arenas, (2) primary practice models include the Model of Human Occupation (MOHO) and the Canadian Model of Occupational Performance, (3) evaluation and intervention strategies can be meaningfully categorized, and (4) several productive lines of research are established. Some similar pedagogical training methods are used in criminal justice settings. Our reliance on participants to invite others minimizes some control over participation. Additionally, the sampling method does not guarantee a true distribution of the population.
Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists. (2013). Report of the Professional Issue Forum on Occupational Therapy in the Criminal Justice System. Retrieved from
Carson, E. A., & Golinelli, D. (2013). Prisoners in 2012: Trends in admissions and releases, 1991–2012. Retrieved from
Eggers, M., Muñoz, J. P., Sciulli, J., & Crist, P. (2006). The Community Reintegration Project: Occupational therapy at work in a county jail. Occupational Therapy in Health Care, 20, 17–37.
Glaze, L. E., & Herberman, E. J. (2013). Correctional populations in the United States, 2012. Retrieved from
Muñoz, J. (2011). Forensic settings. In C. Brown & V. C. Stoffel (Eds.),Occupational therapy in mental health: A vision for participation (pp. 526–544). Philadelphia: F. A. Davis.
O’Connell, M., & Farnworth, L. (2007). Occupational therapy in forensic psychiatry: A review of the literature and a call for a united and international response. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 70, 184–191.