Matt Epperson, a male-presenting person, smiles towards the camera while in a library.

Matt Epperson, MSW, PhD

Associate Professor; Director, Smart Decarceration Project

969 E. 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637

Office Location: E020; WSSC 359

Areas of Expertise
Criminal Justice Policy
Intervention Programs
Mass Incarceration
Mental Health
Social Work
Substance Abuse
Crown Family School Affiliations
UChicago Affiliations
Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture

As Director of the Smart Decarceration Project, Matthew Epperson's research centers on developing, implementing, and evaluating interventions to reduce disparities in the criminal legal system. Dr. Epperson's primary areas of focus include addressing risk factors for criminal legal involvement among persons with mental illnesses, as well as advancing evidence-based approaches to effective and sustainable decarceration. He is Co-Leader of the Promote Smart Decarceration network, through the Grand Challenges for Social Work Initiative.  Dr. Epperson’s scholarship and teaching aim to build the capacity of the social work profession to address these challenges and create opportunities for transforming how justice is defined and realized.

Current Research Projects:

  • System-wide Adaptive Mental Health Measurement and Risk Reduction for Probationers in Cook County, Illinois (Principal Investigator).  This project works in collaboration with Cook County Health to study the implementatio of a novel and evidence-based mental health screening tool, Computer Adaptive Testing-Mental Health (CAT-MHTM) in the Cook County Adult Probation Department. The study is funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Read more about the study here.  
  • Building Evidence to Inform the Expansion of Prosecutor-led Diversion Programs (Principal Investigator). Funded by the Joyce Foundation, this study examines the potential of prosecutor-led diversion programs across three sites (Cook County, IL; Milwaukee County, WI; and the City of Minneapolis, MN) to redress existing disparities in the criminal justice system. Read more about the study here,
  • Reducing Opioid Mortality in Illinois (Co-Investigator). Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this multi-site trial seeks to improve supports and service linkages to evidence-based treatments for criminal justice-involved individuals living with opioid use disorders.
  • Evaluation: Justice and Mental Health Collaborative (Principal Investigator). A mixed methods process and outcome evaluation of a Bureau of Justice Assistance funded initiative being led by the Cook County Health and Hospital Systems and the Circuit Court of Cook County. 
The Smart Decarceration Project Prosecutor-Led Gun Diversion Programs: Implementation Guide is Available
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Police Need to Work More with Mental Health Professionals
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Leading the Way in Advancing Decarceration
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Urban (In)Justice: Transforming Criminal Justice in Cities
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Putting a Focus on the Needs of People Behind Bars
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The Smart Decarceration Project and the Joyce Foundation Examine Prosecutor-Led Gun Diversion Programs
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Evaluation of Prosecutor-led gun diversion programs fuses research, policy, and practice
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See all news articles about Associate Professor; Director, Smart Decarceration Project Matt Epperson
The Smart Decarceration Project Prosecutor-Led Gun Diversion Programs: Implementation Guide is Available
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Associate Professor Matt Epperson’s Smart Decarceration Project participated in a gun violence prevention briefing in Travis County, Texas
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Matt Epperson’s Smart Decarceration Project is researching early intervention gun-diversion programs to see if they can help to curb Chicago’s gun violence
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See all media stories featuring Matt Epperson
William Pollak Award for Excellence in Teaching
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  • Sawh, L., Goff, C.N., Epperson, M.W. (2022). Prosecutorial Diversion Programs. In: Jeglic, E., Calkins, C. (eds) Handbook of Issues in Criminal Justice Reform in the United States. Springer, Cham.
  • Hinami, K., Epperson, M.W., Lyons, T., Nowinski-Konchak, J., Cibulskis, A.M., Zhang, H., and Mennella, C. (2022). Does Bail Reform Decarcerate Mental Illness? Public Health Challenges for a Large County Jail System.Journal of Correctional Health Care.
  • Pho, M., Erzouki, F., Boodram, B., Jimenez, A.D., Pineros, J., Shuman, V., Claypool, E.J., Bouris, A.M., Gastala, N., Reichert, J., Kelly, M., Salisbury-Afshar, E., Epperson, M.W., Gibbons, R.D., Schneider, J.A., Pollack, H.A. (2021). Reducing Opioid Mortality in Illinois (ROMI): A case management/peer recovery coaching critical time intervention clinical trial protocol. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 128, Article 108348, 10.1016/j.jsat.2021.108348
  • Epperson, M.W., McHarris, M., Ulrich, B., & Sawh, L. (2021). The box in social work education: Prevalence and correlates of criminal history questions on MSW Applications: Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research: Vol 0, no ja. Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, from 
  • Epperson, M.W., Sawh, L., *Sarantakos, S.P. (2020). Building a therapeutic relationship between probation officers and probationers with serious mental illnesses. CNS Spectrums. DOI:
  • Gibbons, R.D., Smith, J.D., Brown, C.H., Sajdak, M., Jones Tapia, N., Kulik, A., Epperson, M.W., Csernansky, J. (2019)Improving the evaluation of adult mental disorders in the criminal justice system with computerized adaptive testing. Psychiatric Services.
  • Epperson, M.W., Pettus-Davis, C., Grier, A., Sawh, L. (2018). Promote smart decarceration. In R. Fong, R. Barth, & J. Lubben (Eds.), The Grand Challenges for Social Work and Society: Social Progress Powered by Science. Oxford University Press.
  • Epperson, M., and Pettus-Davis, C. eds. 2017. Smart Decarceration: Achieving Criminal Justice Transformation in the 21st Century. Oxford University Press.
  • Epperson, M. W., J. G. Thompson, A. J. Lurigio, and S. Kim. (2017). “Unpacking the relationship between probationers with serious mental illnesses and probation offers: A mixed-methods examination.” Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 56(3): 188-216.
  • Epperson, M.W. & Pettus-Davis, C. (2017)Smart decarceration: Guiding concepts for an era of criminal justice transformation. In M. Epperson & C. Pettus-Davis (Eds.), Smart Decarceration: Achieving Criminal Justice Transformation in the 21st Century. Oxford University Press.
  • Gilbert, L., S. Shaw, D. Goddard-Eckrich, M. Chang, J. Rowe, T. McCrimmon, M. Almonte, S. Goodwin, M. W. Epperson. (2015). "Project WINGS (Women Initiating New Goals of Safety): A randomized controlled trial of a screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment (SBIRT) service to address intimate partner violence victimization among substance-using women receiving community supervision." Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health 25: 314-329.
  • Pettus-Davis, C., Epperson, M.W. (2015, February). From mass incarceration to smart decarcerationAmerican Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, Grand Challenges Initiative for Social Work Initiative, Working Paper No. 4.
  • Azhar, S., Berringer, K., Epperson, M.W. (2014). A systematic review of HIV prevention interventions targeting women with criminal justice involvement. Journal of the Society of Social Work and Research, 5(3), 253-289.
  • Canada, K.E., Epperson, M.W. (2014)The client-caseworker working relationship and its association with outcomes among mental health court participants. Community Mental Health Journal 50(8): 968-973.
  • El-Bassel, Nabila, Louisa Gilbert, Dawn Goddard-Eckrich, Mingway Chang, Elwin Wu, Timothy Hunt, Matthew W. Epperson, Stacy Shaw, Jessica Rowe, Maria Almonte, and Susan S. Witte. (2014). Efficacy of a group-based multimedia HIM prevention intervention for drug-involved women under community supervision: Project WORTH. PLoS ONE, 9(11); e111528. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111528.
  • Epperson, MW, Canada KE, Thompson J, Lurigio A. (2014). Walking the line: Specialized and standard probation officer perspectives on supervising probationers with serious mental illnesses.  International Journal of Law & Psychiatry, 37, 473-483
  • Epperson, MW, Wolff N, Morgan R, Fisher WH, Frueh BC, Huening J.  (2014).  Envisioning the next generation of behavioral health and criminal justice interventions. International Joural of Law & Psychiatry, 37, 427-438Abstract
  • Orellana, ER, El-Bassel N, Gilbert L, Miller KM, Catania J, Epperson MW, Wu E. (2014).  Sex trading and other HIV risks among drug-involved men: Differential associations with childhood sexual abuse.  Social Work Research, 38(2), 117-126.
  • Wolff, N, Epperson MW, Shi J, Huening J, Schumann BE, Rubenstein I. (2014).  Mental health specialized probation caseloads: Are they effective? International Journal of Law & Psychiatry, 37, 464-472.
  • Wolff, N., Huening, J., Shi, J., Schumann, B.E., Sullivan, I., Epperson, M.W. (2014). Evaluating client selection and selection fidelity: Case of mental health probation supervision. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 41(5), 536-552. 
  • Epperson, MW, Thompson JG, Canada KE.  (2013).  Mental health court. In C. Franklin (Ed.),  Encyclopedia of Social Work Online. Oxford University Press.
  • Epperson, MW, Roberts LE, Ivanoff A, Tripodi S, Gilmer C.  (2013).  To what extent is criminal justice content addressed in MSW programs? Journal of Social Work Education. 49(1), 96-107. Abstract
  • Epperson, MW, Canada KE, Lurigio AJ.  (2013).  Mental health court: One approach for addressing the problems of persons with serious mental illnesses in the criminal justice system.  In JB Helfgott (Ed.), Criminal Psychology. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
  • Wolff, N, Frueh BC, Huening J, Shi J, Epperson MW, Morgan RD, Fisher WH.  (2013).  Practice informs the next generation of behavioral health and criminal justice interventions. International Journal of Law & Psychiatry. 36,1-10.
  • Lurigio, AJ, Canada KE, Epperson MW.  (2013). Crime victimization and mental illness.  In RC Davis, AJ Lurigio, S Herman (Eds.) Victims of Crime. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
  • Khan, MR, Epperson MW, Gilbert L, Goddard D, Hunt T, Sarfo B, El-Bassel N.  (2012).  The promise of multimedia technology for STI/HIV prevention: Frameworks for understanding improved faiclitator delivery and participant learning. AIDS and Behavior. 16,1949-1960.
  • Lurigio, AJ, Epperson MW, Canada KE, Babchuk LC.  (2012).  Specialized probation probrams for people with mental illnesses: A review of practices and research. Journal of Crime and Justice. 35(2), 317-326.
  • Babchuk, LC, Lurigio AJ, Canada KE, Epperson MW.  (2012).  Responding to probationers with mental illnesses.  Federal Probation, 72 (2).
  • Khan, MR, Epperson MW.  (2012).  Static Interference: The social network disruption of incarceration and how HIV thrives on it. Positively Aware. (May/June):37. Website
  • Khan, MR, Rosen DL, Epperson MW, Goldberg A, Hemberg J, Richardson J.  (2012).  Adolescent criminal justice involvement and adulthood sexually transmitted infection in a nationally-representative U.S. sample. Journal of Urban Health90, 717-728.
  • Link, BG, Epperson MW, Perron BE, Castille DM, Yang LH.  (2011).  Arrest outcomes associated with outpatient commitment in New York State. Psychiatric Services. 62, 504-508. Abstract
  • Perron, BE, Monsell ASB, Vaughn SE, Epperson MW, Howard MO.  (2011).  Patterns and correlates of drug-related emergency room visits: Results from a national survey. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine. 29(7), 704-710.
  • Epperson, MW, Khan MR, El-Bassel N, Wu E, Gilbert L.  (2011).  A longitudinal study of incarceration and HIV risk among methadone maintained men and their primary female partners. AIDS and Behavior. 15(2), 347-355. Abstract
  • Khan, MR, Epperson MW, Mateu-Gelabert P, Bolyard M, Sandoval M, Friedman SR.  (2011).  Incarceration, sex with an STI/HIV-infected partner, and STI/HIV infection status in Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY: A social network perspective. American Journal of Public Health. 101(6), 1110-11117. Abstract
  • Ahmedani, BK, Perron BE, Ilgen MA,.Abdon A, Vaughn MG, Eppesron MW.  (2011).  Suicide thoughts and attempts and psychiatric treatment utilization: Informing prevention strategies. Psychiatric Services. 63(2), 186-189.
  • Epperson, MW, Wolff N, Morgan R, Fisher WH, Frueh BC, Huening J.  (2011).  The Next Generation of Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice Interventions: Improving Outcomes by Improving Interventions. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University: Center for Behavioral Health Services & Criminial Justice Research. 2011_next_generation_monograph.pdf
  • Epperson, MW, El-Bassel N, Gilbert L, Chang M.  (2010).  Examining the temporal relationship between criminal justice involvement and sexual risk behaviors among drug-involved men. Journal of Urban Health. 87(2), 324-336. Abstract
  • Epperson, MW, Khan MR, Miller DP, Perron BE, El-Bassel N, Gilbert L.  (2010).  Assessing criminal justice involvement as an indicator of HIV risk among women in methadone treatment. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 38(4), 375-383. Abstract
  • Epperson, MW.  (2010).  Specialized probation services. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University: Center for Behavioral Health Services & Criminal Justice Research.
  • Wolff, N, Epperson MW, Fay S.  (2010).  Mental health probation officers: Stopping justice involvement before incarceration. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University: Center for Behavioral Health Services & Criminal Justice Research.
  • Epperson, MW, Platais I, Valera P, Barbieri R, Gilbert L, El-Bassel N.  (2009).  Fear, trust, and negotiating safety: HIV risk contexts for Black women defendants. Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work. 24(3), 257-271. Abstract
  • Khan, MR, Doherty IA, Schoenbach VJ, Taylor EM, Epperson MW, Adimora AA.  (2009).  Incarceration and high-risk sexual partnerships among men in the United States. Journal of Urban Health. 86(4), 584-601. Abstract
  • Valera, P, Epperson MW, Ramaswamy M, Freudenberg N, Daniels J.  (2009).  Substance use and HIV risk behaviors among young men involved in the criminal justice system. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. 35(1), 43-47. Abstract
  • Epperson, MW, El-Bassel N, Gilbert L, Orellana ER, Chang M.  (2008).  Increased HIV risk associated with criminal justice involvement among men on methadone. AIDS and Behavior. 12(1), 51-57. Abstract
  • Epperson, MW, Schwalbe C.  (2006).  Review of "Mental Health Screening and Assessment in Juvenile Justice," edited by Thomas Grisso, Gina Vincent, and Daniel Seagrave. Social Service Review. 80(4), 754-756.

Associate Professor Matt Epperson is on leave for the 2022-23 academic year.

Matt Epperson is an Associate Professor at the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, where he also serves as Director of the Smart Decarceration Project.

He is faculty director of the Transforming Justice Policies and Practices program of study at Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. He teaches courses in direct practice and research methods, as well as a course that he designed entitled “Smart Decarceration: A Grand Challenge for Social Work.” He has over 15 years of clinical and administrative social work experience in behavioral health and criminal justice settings.

Prior to joining SSA, professor Epperson was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Behavioral Health Services & Criminal Justice Research at Rutgers University's Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research. He received his Ph.D. with distinction from the Columbia University School of Social Work, a M.S.W. from Grand Valley State University, and a B.S. in Sociology/Criminal Justice from Central Michigan University.