Megan Comfort is a senior research sociologist in the Youth, Violence Prevention, and Community Justice Program in RTI International’s Division for Applied Justice Research and affiliated faculty in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Megan has been conducting research with people involved in the criminal justice system for over two decades and has extensive expertise in qualitative research methods including focus groups, in-depth interviews, and ethnography. She is the author of Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of the Prison (University of Chicago Press, 2008) and a co-author with RTI colleagues Tasseli McKay, Christine Lindquist, and Anupa Bir of Holding On: Family and Fatherhood During Incarceration and Reentry (University of California Press, in press). Megan’s work has been published in Criminal Justice and Behavior, Ethnography, the Journal of Sex Research, Annual Review of Law & Social Science, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, PLoS ONE, and AIDS & Behavior, among other journals, and also has appeared in journals in Brazil, Argentina, France, and Portugal.
Megan began her career working for Centerforce, a non-profit organization that provides advocacy and support services for people who are incarcerated and their loved ones. While at Centerforce, she was the Director of Women's Services at The House at San Quentin, a center located just outside the gates of San Quentin State Prison that provides child care, clothing exchange, and other services to women and children coming to visit people held in the prison.
As a sociology graduate student at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Megan returned to San Quentin to conduct an ethnographic study of women visiting their partners for her dissertation research. Her book based on this work, Doing Time Together: Love and Family in the Shadow of the Prison (University of Chicago Press, 2008), analyzes the “secondary prisonization” of women in relationships with incarcerated men.
From 2002-2011, Megan conducted research funded by the National Institutes of Health with colleagues at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), first as a research specialist (2002-2007) and then as an Assistant Professor (2007-2011). In collaboration with Olga Grinstead Reznick and others, she designed, implemented, and evaluated the first HIV-prevention program specifically for women with incarcerated male partners. Megan continues to have an affiliated faculty appointment with UCSF's Department of Medicine, and participated in the University of California Criminal Justice & Health consortium.
In 2011, Megan joined RTI International. Her current research focuses on what she calls the "repercussive effects" of criminal justice involvement on the health and well-being of individuals and families. She believes in strengthening the policy and programmatic relevance of research, and is a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. In line with her commitment to social justice, she is an advisory board member for Essie Justice Group, a non-profit organization that aims to empower women with incarcerated loved ones and end mass incarceration. She also serves on the board of UnCommon Law, a non-profit organization that provides high-quality legal representation, advocacy, and support for people serving life sentences so that they can safely return to their communities.