Meet Julia Donnelly, Health Justice Scholar


Julia Donnelly (BCHS MPH '21) is a second-year student who is also pursuing a Certificate in Health Equity with a BS in biological sciences and a BA in philosophy from Pitt.

"After taking the Seminar in Health Equity, I developed an interest in studying the incarcerated and reentry populations. I am specifically interested in how racial disparities in policing, sentencing, incarceration, and lack of investment in social services supporting re-entry efforts affect the health of offenders, their families, and their communities," she said. 

When Donnelly started grad school, her original interest was the relationship between chronic disease and food insecurity. When she got to Pitt Public Health and took courses with equity-driven content coupled with what she calls "the rising temperature of a tense social-political climate in the U.S." she decided to study on disparities in the justice system. 

"There has been a lot of positive and forward momentum over the last decade or so regarding criminal justice reform, but there is still much work to be done. As we see policy changes concerning policing, sentencing, and the legalization of once-illicit substances, the re-entry infrastructure will become increasingly important as the rate of inmate release climbs and more and more offenders return to the public."

Donnelly's background in biological sciences and her understanding of the translation of research into interventions is grounded in traditional medical interventions. She hopes to learn more about differing theoretical frameworks that influence research approaches, intervention design, and program implementation. 

Specific to re-entry program design, she said she is "particularly interested in learning more about strengths-based and capacity-building approaches that promote offender agency, reduce stigma, and build social capital for those affected by incarceration." 

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