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What Do Forensic Peer Specialists Do?

Forensic Peer Specialists assist people through a variety of services and roles. Given the history of stigma and discrimination accruing to both mental illness and incarceration, perhaps the most important function of Forensic Peer Specialists is to instill hope and serve as valuable and credible models of the possibility of recovery. Other roles include helping individuals to engage in treatment and support services and to anticipate and address the psychological, social, and financial challenges of reentry. They also assist with maintaining adherence to conditions of supervision. Forensic Peer Specialists can serve as community guides, coaches, and/or advocates, working to link newly discharged people with housing, vocational and educational opportunities, and community services. Within this context, they can model useful skills and effective problem-solving strategies, and respond in a timely fashion to prevent or curtail relapses and other crises.


Finally, Forensic Peer Specialists provide additional supports and services, including:

•• Sharing their experiences as returning offenders and modeling the ways they advanced in recovery

•• Helping people to relinquish attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors learned as survival mechanisms in criminal justice settings (such

as those addressed by SPECTRM [Sensitizing Providers to the Effects of Incarceration on Treatment and Risk Management] and the Howie T. Harp Peer Advocacy Center)

•• Sharing their experiences and providing advice and coaching in relation to job and apartment hunting

•• Supporting engagement in mental health and substance abuse treatment services in the community, including the use of psychiatric medications and attending 12-step and other abstinence-based mutual support groups

•• Providing information on the rights and responsibilities of discharged offenders and on satisfying criminal justice system requirements and conditions (probation, parole, etc.)

•• Providing practical support by accompanying

the person to initial probation meetings or treatment appointments and referring him or her to potential employers and landlords 

•• Helping people to negotiate and minimize continuing criminal sanctions as they make progress in recovery and meet criminal justice obligations.

•• Working alongside professional staff

•• Training professional staff on engaging consumers with criminal justice history

Peer Support within Criminal Justice Settings:  The Role of Forensic Peer Specialists

Forensic peer support involves trained peer specialists with histories of mental illness and criminal justice involvement helping those with similar histories. This type of support requires special attention to the needs of justice-involved people with mental illness, including an understanding of the impact of the culture of incarceration on behavior. Recognition of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, prevalent among this population, is critical.

WRAP® in the Criminal Justice System

WRAP® is the acronym for Wellness Recovery Action Plan®, developed by Mary Ellen Copeland. It is a tool used to relieve difficult feelings and maintain wellness. The Wellness Recovery Action Plan® (WRAP®), was developed to empower consumers to take personal responsibility for maintaining their personal wellness and recovery.

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This innovative evidence-based practice can be used to identify your own wellness tools and how to use them when you are feeling unwell or unsafe.2 Increasingly, WRAP® is being used by justice-involved consumers. Research has found that WRAP® is very helpful in helping people avoid crisis and relapse. If you are interested in developing your own WRAP® or finding a WRAP® facilitator in your community, contact the Copeland Center:

Mary Ellen Copeland

Mental Health Recovery and WRAP®

PO Box 301

W. Dummerston, Vt. 05357

(802) 254-2092

www.mentalhealthrecovery.com

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America’s criminal justice system is the de facto behavioral health treatment provider in many communities.


But elected officials, criminal justice practitioners, and behavioral health service providers alike recognize the justice system is poorly positioned to treat this population. Communities are increasingly looking for alternatives that safely divert people with behavioral health needs into cost-efficient and effective community-based treatment that produces better outcomes for the individual, the community, and the justice system (Abreu et al. 2017).

Developed nearly 20 years ago, the Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) was designed for communities to use “when considering the interface between criminal justice system and mental health systems as they address concerns about the criminalization of people with mental illness” (Munetz and Griffin 2006, 544). Over the past two decades, the model has gained prominence2 as an effective framework for systematically assessing available community resources, determining critical service gaps, identifying opportunities to safely divert people from needless involvement in the criminal justice system, and implementing reforms at six distinct justice decision points, or “intercepts.” This case study examines how three Innovation Fund communities used the SIM to advance their justice reform efforts, including their SIM planning processes and objectives. The study also explores stakeholder reflections on the process and lessons learned.