Affiliate Spotlight: Sarah Manchak

We recently had the privilege of learning about Dr. Sarah Manchak’s mentorship and community-based research. Dr. Manchak is an Associate Professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati and a PEWS Faculty Affiliate. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses, coordinates the undergraduate research program, runs the faculty-led study abroad program in Scotland, and is the academic advisor for the undergraduate/university chapters of the Ohio Innocence Project and the American Correctional Association. In addition to being a devoted mentor, Dr. Manchak conducts research on critical issues related to substance issue, mental health, and criminal justice.

Extensive Background in Psychology and Criminal Justice

Dr. Manchak received her Bachelor of Arts from Seattle University and graduated summa cum laude in Psychology and German Language. She then earned her Master’s degree in Forensic Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice with a summa cum laude as well. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Behavior with concentrations in experimental psychopathology and psychology and the law from the University of California, Irvine. Using her extensive expertise in her current research, Dr. Manchak seeks to inform policy and interventions for justice system-involved individuals with serious mental illness and/or addiction. 

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Impact Lab

Dr. Manchak’s Impact Lab works on informing and improving policies, procedures, and service delivery for people who come in contact with the criminal-legal system. The lab specifically studies the experiences of people with mental illness and addiction in a variety of settings and contexts, including community supervision, jail, pretrial diversion and deflection, reentry, and specialty courts. Through strategic researcher-practitioner partnerships, the lab’s researchers emphasize both evidence-based practices and practice-based evidence. Though their work, they strive to maintain scientific rigor, a sensitivity to individual experiences, and honest recognition of the day-to-day realities facing individuals working, managed, or treated in correctional and treatment contexts. The current projects of the Impact Lab explore serious topics related to substance use, mental health and criminal justice.

In her capacity as a program evaluator, Dr. Manchak has conducted a number of evaluations on programs that support recovery from substance use and seek to reduce overdose incidence among people with substance use disorder. To this end, Dr. Manchak has developed a strong collaboration with the Hamilton Addiction Response Coalition (HCARC). HCARC is a collaboration between professionals from prevention, treatment, harm reduction, law enforcement, EMS, and the faith and business communities– all dedicated to helping people with substance use disorder and combatting our local overdose epidemic in Hamilton County. The Impact Lab has partnered with HCARC to conduct evaluations of Hamilton County’s law enforcement assisted diversion (LEAD) program and county-wide Quick Response team (QRT).

The Impact Lab also has a longstanding collaborative partnership with Talbert House, a local nonprofit treatment agency. Since 2012, Dr. Manchak has conducted several Bureau of Justice (BJA) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA)-funded treatment services delivered to individuals in substance use treatment since 2012. Along with her colleague, Dr. Cory Haberman in the School of Criminal Justice and Dr. Kim Sperber with Talbert House’s Center for Health and Human Services Research (CHHSR) , she is co-evaluating a statewide evaluation of nearly a dozen overdose response deflection programs for a Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Program’s (COSSAP) grant received by the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services. Dr. Manchak has also served on two advisory boards to support grants and projects run by Talbert House’s CHHSR. 

More recently, The Impact Lab finished data collection on a project that examines differences and similarities in risk factors for violations of community supervision between people with and without mental illness. This research,  funded by the American-Psychology Law Society Grant-in-Aid will help improve the response of probation officers to individuals with mental illness and allow for more proactive problem solving in supervision, to reduce individuals’ likelihood of failure and return to jail or prison. 

Finally, with support from the University of Cincinnati Office of Research and in collaboration with Drs. Cory Haberman, and Joshua Cochran from the University of Cincinnati School of Criminal Justice, Janet Moore, JD, from the University of Cincinnati Law School, and Ebony Ruhland, from Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice the Impact Lab is conducting a mixed-methods examination of racial disparities in access, participation, and experiences in adult mental health and drug courts in Ohio. The project ultimately seeks to inform and change practices that disproportionately disadvantage minoritized groups and create more equitable access and experiences in these specialized, treatment-oriented court dockets. 

Looking ahead, Dr. Manchak is particularly excited to support two very ambitious, timely, and policy-relevant dissertation projects. One study, led by School of Criminal Justice doctoral student, Sarah Light, focuses on the impact of reentry service utilization on returning citizens’ arrest outcomes. Ms. Light is partnering with the Hamilton County Office of Reentry (HCOR) for this project and hope that her research will help HCOR be able to better meet the needs of the clients they serve and meet individuals where they are to achieve positive outcomes. The other study, led by School of Criminal Justice doctoral student, Madeline Lancaster, serves as a pilot project for a larger program of research examining the intersectionality of race and mental illness and how these factors impact decision-making of criminal justice professionals.