Brie Williams, MD, MS

Professor of Medicine
UC San Francisco
UCSF Faculty Profile
Key Areas: older adults, incarceration, criminal justice system, aging, health disparities


Brie Williams is a geriatrician and palliative care physician whose work focuses on integrating medicine and public health into criminal justice reform. As GBHI faculty, Williams collaborates with colleagues from diverse disciplines—including criminal justice, public safety, and the law—to understand the interaction of cognitive impairment and criminal justice involvement for older adults.

With a rapidly growing number of older adults in the criminal justice system, many of whom have cognitive impairment or risk factors for dementia, it is critical that we bring a healthcare perspective to criminal justice reform.

Williams uses the platform of academic medicine to advocate for evidence-based social and cultural change in the criminal justice system. Her research has identified a high burden of cognitive impairment, complex chronic health conditions, and disability among incarcerated older adults. In response, she has called for improved screening and care models that account for these challenges in the unique prison environment. Williams has analyzed early “compassionate” release policies to show that their inaccuracies about how people experience dementia and serious illness has made them fall short of their intended goal to release seriously ill individuals from prison. This work has led Williams to consult with state and federal systems to overhaul their early medical release policies to be more based on scientific evidence. 

Williams directs the Criminal Justice Aging Project, which develops and delivers geriatrics and palliative care training to criminal justice professionals including police, correctional officers, attorneys, and correctional clinicians. For example, Williams conducts trainings with police and correctional officers to identify and respond to dementia-related behaviors. She also runs the European-US Criminal Justice Innovation Program, an immersion program for US government officials, policy makers and criminal justice professionals that introduces them to health-oriented criminal justice reform in Europe. Williams has served as a consultant for jails, prisons and legal organizations nationwide, including the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the National Americans Civil Liberties Union, and as an expert witness in several lawsuits related to the effect of solitary confinement on physical and cognitive health.

Among her many roles, Williams most enjoys working with trainees, such as the Atlantic Fellows, who are committed to applying their academic knowledge to support social change.

Bio: Brie Williams, a professor of medicine in geriatrics and palliative care, directs the Criminal Justice & Health Program, which brings healthcare solutions to criminal justice reform. Her research calls for improved systems for defining responding to disability, cognitive impairment, and serious illness in criminal justice-involved older adults; scientific development of early “compassionate” release policies; and broader inclusion of incarcerated individuals in health research designed for their benefit. Williams’ Criminal Justice Aging Project delivers geriatrics training to criminal justice professionals. She directs the European-US Criminal Justice Innovation Program introducing US leaders to health-focused European criminal justice systems to support change in their home jurisdictions.