Peer specialists with incarceration histories . . . have the ability to connect on a deeper level and gain the trust of those who may be particularly distrustful of the mental health and criminal justice systems . . . . Peers can not only serve as examples of what is possible but can also aid in practical support for community re-entry from jail or prison or for navigating the criminal justice and mental health systems. They can also aid in helping others to construct their own personal narratives that incorporate their past experiences.S. L. Barrenger and colleagues
Peer support specialists can help people avoid justice involvement and support people in recovery as they reintegrate into the community after being involved with the justice system. Forensic peer support specialists are people with justice involvement and lived experience of mental illness, substance use disorder, or both, who support people with similar histories and lived experiences. They offer hope, provide mentoring, demonstrate that recovery is possible, and help a person connect with their own strengths. They may work in hospitals, churches, parole and probation offices, and courts.
Black men are disproportionately represented in the prison system and experience high rates of recidivism. By providing supports during and while exiting incarceration, peer support specialists can help reduce the rates and effects of recidivism and incarceration. They can provide stronger engagement and sustained connection when people are most vulnerable to recidivism.
Peer support specialists may help with justice diversion by supporting people as they regain stability and purpose after exiting incarceration. They can also help reduce recidivism by:
- Establishing mutuality and trust
- Supporting people with physical needs (such as food, housing, budgeting, technology, and education) and emotional needs (such as managing conflicts and reengaging with family) as they transition back into the community
- Helping combat stigma and the collateral consequences of prior justice involvement (workplace discrimination, for example)
- Supporting their recovery journey
One model, known as the Sequential Intercept Model, helps communities develop a comprehensive picture of how people move through the justice system and how to integrate peer support at each stage:
- Intercept 0: Community Services
Peer support specialists can be involved in outreach and engagement in the community, helping people with skills related to transportation and other basic needs.
- Intercept 1: Law Enforcement
Peer support specialists can work with law enforcement teams to connect people to care and demonstrate alternative options to imprisonment.
- Intercept 2: Initial Detention/Initial Court Hearings
Peer support specialists can help people process experiences with arrests, provide support during difficult experiences, and help people cope with justice involvement.
- Intercept 3: Jails/Courts
Peer support specialists may serve on treatment court teams. In some communities, peer support is available in jails.
- Intercept 4: Reentry
Peer support specialists can be involved in treatment planning, offer support with systems navigation, and facilitate connection with the recovery community.
- Intercept 5: Community Corrections
Peer support specialists can help in understanding probation conditions and provisions, as well as connecting people to resources and services such as housing, employment, and benefits.