Recently, SAMHSA hosted two webinars about the benefits of peer support for those with mental illness who are incarcerated, bringing in practitioners from Iowa and Pennsylvania to speak about their experiences utilizing peers in this unique setting. During these sessions, both states outlined their specific criteria for the selection of mentors and emphasized the importance of structured training to empower mentors to utilize positive and consistent behavior when working with other incarcerated individuals. One of the strengths of this model is that because many mentors had been incarcerated themselves, they are able to quickly build trusting relationships with clients and provide salient advice about navigating the prison system. Moreover, in both models, peer support did not end once an individual left the correctional facility; rather many mentors continued assisting the formerly incarcerated individuals with the reentry process. In both states, many successes were documented, including decreased medical expenses.
Of particular note, in some localities, mentors were expected “to lead by example” for the inmates and staff in correctional facilities. This suggests that even though many criminal justice and prison systems across the country are rife with challenges, peer mentors could act as a foundation for new practices within the facilities, even among staff. At the very least, these two case studies provide preliminary support for the use of Peer Support Systems “behind the walls” of the justice system, providing a practical and reliable solution for the status quo.
To view the webinars, please see the following links: