“When we talk about different groups, whether gender, identity, or ethnicity, we must also talk about how they are shaped by their environment,” Felton Board Chair and neuropsychiatrist Dr. George Woods explains. “African Americans have historically been shaped by racism. They’ve been shaped by trauma.” Dr. Woods, who has practiced forensic psychiatry (the study of psychiatry within the legal system) for over 40 years, stresses that this also translates to the criminal justice system.

As President of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, Dr. Woods explains that “for almost any young person, but certainly young African Americans, becoming involved in the criminal justice system upends their lives. It negatively impacts opportunities and employment prospects.” African Americans are largely overrepresented in the criminal justice system, incarcerated five times the rate of whites. A legacy of slavery and racism translates to trauma and mental health disorders. Dr. Woods elucidates that throughout his career, “I saw how many people that have difficulty in the criminal system have cognitive impairments, substance and alcohol abuse, or other difficulties.”

Dr. Woods points out that individuals with a history of trauma, substance abuse, early childhood education difficulties, homelessness, and mental illness are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Felton’s Justice Services Division, Dr. Woods asserts, provides programs and services that address these issues. “So many of the social determinants impact health. Felton identifies these determinants and provides multiple outreach programs,” explains Dr. Woods.

From birth to end-of-life, Felton serves individuals and their families who may be experiencing mental health issues, alcohol or substance abuse disorders, or are unhoused. Felton positively transforms their quality of life and promotes social justice to accelerate community led change. Dr. Woods emphasizes, “It’s both the depth and breadth of Felton’s programs that continue to attract me because we need to be working on all these things.”

Learn more about Felton Institute’s Justice Service Programs.


Felton Institute responds to the needs of our community by providing innovative, evidence-informed social services to transform lives. Our organization offers 50+ programs that address mental health, the unhoused, early care and education, those impacted by the justice system, transitional age youth, as well as aging adults. Our award-winning programs, which have been recognized as national models, combine the latest scientific research with cultural sensitivity and a deep commitment to supporting and reflecting the communities we serve.

Founded in 1889, Felton is the oldest secular non-profit social services provider in the City and County of San Francisco. We have expanded our services across most Bay Area counties and continue to be at the forefront of pioneering new approaches to meet the emerging needs of underserved populations.

We know what it looks like to successfully build community.

We foster impactful change by strengthening the community as a premiere service provider. We also strengthen other service providers by supporting them in their fiscal, human resources, communications, IT and overall agency operations. With Felton’s support, they are able to focus on providing the best services to their clients, doing the work they were meant to do.

Felton empowers the community and ensures successful outcomes to all we engage with.

Felton Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 94-1156530.