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Transformative Justice Initiative

The Transformative Justice Initiative (TJI) serves the community to improve system health and safety, and support prevention of incarceration and successful transitions from criminal justice settings.

Working group from the Transformative Justice Initiative


TJI is an interprofessional, collaborative program that employs community-based participatory research to guide evidence-informed transformative justice solutions. The Initiative was first described in an article shared on Saint Louis University’s Newslink.

Historical Overview

Since 2010, Karen F. Barney, Ph.D., shaped an innovative model for facilitating successful community reentry. She worked with SLU Prison Program founder Kenneth Parker, Ph.D., who built a unique higher education program for both staff and individuals incarcerated. Barney’s vision for reentry included evidence-informed education, pre-release preparation, and post-release facilitation of occupation-based and interprofessional services, supported by related community agencies, to support successful reentry.

In 2014, Lisa Jaegers, Ph.D., proposed widening the scope of reentry services by including organizational needs assessment and workplace health along with Barney’s model for collaborative and bridged transition services. The current program includes partnerships with city, state, and federal criminal justice settings that work strategically towards organizational change and implementation of evidence-informed transition services. The Initiative’s core is a combination of systems, community, university, and individual action to address incarceration; in essence, a transformative justice model.

What the Initiative Does

  • Collaborates with criminal justice facilities using a participatory approach to transition interventions.
  • Engages community and university stakeholders, and related national organizations.
  • Identifies multi-level needs and interventions through research-based methods.
  • Develops strategic plans for organizational culture and procedural change.
  • Uses an iterative program evaluation process to inform continuous improvement.
  • Shares results and resources that contribute to evidence-informed transitions.

What Drives Our Work?

The Transformative Justice Initiative is supported by:

  • Christopher Collins, S.J., Assistant to the President for Mission and Identity.
  • The Saint Louis University Health Criminology Research Consortium (HCRC), led by Michael G. Vaughn, Ph.D., founder and executive director. The Health Criminology Research Consortium unites faculty from the medical and health sciences and those from social science who focus on the intersection between health and mental health and those at risk for contact with the criminal justice system and those already involved. Just as the field of health law was articulated by Saint Louis University so is health criminology. The knowledge terrain is rich and inherently transdisciplinary spawning exciting research questions and approaches that can hopefully improve our understanding of the causes, correlates and distribution of outcomes, as well as the effectiveness of prevention, clinical intervention and policy at the intersection of health and criminal justice.
  • SLU Interprofessional Committee, which represents more than 20 academic units and services across the university.
  • Inclusion of our participants in program planning, implementation and evaluation.
  • Occupational Therapy Reentry Advisory Committee, a group of practitioners from around the United States who are driven to support occupation-based interventions within the criminal justice system.

We also serve on:

  • Re-LINK, St. Louis Integrated Health Network
  • St. Louis Alliance for Reentry (STAR)
  • National Corrections Collaborative, supported by the National Institutes of Justice
  • American Occupational Therapy Association, Work and Industry Special Interest Section

How Do We Do This Work?

We bring in the best practitioners and service providers. The Transformative Justice Initiative is led by the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy in the Doisy College of Health Sciences.

University schools and departments including the Office of Mission and Identity, School of Law, Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Career Services, Workforce Development Center, Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, School of Nursing, College for Public Health and Social Justice, Department of Psychology and School of Social Work provide resources and services.

Community agency providers also work with the initiative to assist with pre- and post-release needs and find ways to improve the reentry system. We partner with local, state and federal systems in program development, implementation and evaluation for criminal justice reform.

Meet our Team

Karen F. Barney, Ph.D


Karen Barney, Ph.D., is an occupational therapist with 50 years of experience in practice and occupational therapy higher education. As a professor emerita, she served as the interim director of the Saint Louis University Prison Program, within which she has lead the development of a model interprofessional reentry program.

Her research interests focus on interprofessional service models, older adult injury prevention, health related quality of life for persons with disabilities and older adults, transitioning military personnel, and those incarcerated in jail and prison settings.

She has taught in university settings for 37 years, serving as primary faculty for the aging-related and research courses in three university programs. She has also served as faculty and resource consultant, as well as director of the Gateway Regional Geriatric Education Center (GEC) at Saint Louis University for 22 years. She continues to provide mentorship for occupational science and master’s, and clinical doctorate occupational therapy projects and dissertations.

Through the years of work within the GEC, she published numerous injury prevention manuals and primary prevention tools utilized in the community.  She was enrolled in the Roster of Fellows by the American Occupational Therapy Association in 1998, and is the recipient of awards for service to the profession, the University and the communities in which she has resided.

Barney received her Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy and Master of Science in Adult Education degrees from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and her Ph.D. from the Saint Louis University School of Public Health in Health Services Research.

Lisa Jaegers, Ph.D.

Director of operations and research

Lisa Jaegers, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at Doisy College of Health Sciences with a secondary appointment in the School of Social Work.

Her work as an occupational therapist has focused on employee health since 2001 with applications of the evidence-based strategy Total Worker Health® in criminal justice workplaces since 2014. Funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, her workplace health studies include participatory-needs assessment, health promotion interventions and health etiology.

As director of the Saint Louis University Transformative Justice Initiative, Jaegers also implements and evaluates reentry programs by working with teams of multidisciplinary stakeholders in jail and prison facilities. The program was awarded the Arcus Award for Achievement in Education Attainment in 2017.

She is also associate director of the Health Criminology Research Consortium that contributes to the advancement of local, national and international efforts in research-based decision making that leads to more effective policy, practices and outcomes at the intersection of health (behavioral, mental, and physical) and the criminal justice system.

Jaegers is chairperson of the Work and Industry Special Interest Section for the American Occupational Therapy Association and member of the National Corrections Collaborative. She holds undergraduate degrees in Occupational Therapy and Psychology from Maryville University and completed her doctoral studies in Public Health with an emphasis in Behavioral Science and Health Education at the Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice.

Brittany Conners

Community transitions occupational therapist

Brittany Conners is lead community transitions occupational therapist for the Saint Louis University reentry program at the City of St. Louis jail. She recruits, assesses and develops individualized interventions with individuals who are preparing to be released from jail.

She works with jail reentry case managers and a variety of community partners to provide tailored occupational therapy interventions and pre-release planning. Prior to her role in jail reentry, Conners worked for the St. Louis Veterans Administration in a dual role as an occupational therapist and case manager helping veterans experiencing homelessness transition to permanent housing. She is a graduate of the SLU occupational science and occupational therapy masters program and is currently seeking her doctoral degree at SLU.

Funding Support

Saint Louis University's Transformative Justice Initiative is supported by the following:

  • CDC/NIOSH/HWCE Grant No. U19OH008858
  • Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, Inc.
  • The City of St. Louis
  • Criminal Justice Reform Initiative, Hammond Institute, Lindenwood University
  • Leo Brown Jesuit Community
  • Unnamed Donor