The Mental Health Resource of Texas (dba Via Hope) has developed a Reentry Peer Specialist training and certification. The certification will provide formerly incarcerated individuals with a history of mental health challenges and/or substance use challenges with a workforce development credential, addressing both the issues of recidivism and barriers to reentry through a recovery-oriented peer-led strategy. This is a Freedom vs. Release model.
The Federal Gains Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation, a division of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-SAMHSA, has defined domains for justice involved individuals. Those domains will be incorporated as part of this training. SAMHSA’s terminology for this area of training is “Forensics,” which is a catchall term for anything involving or related to the criminal justice system. Via Hope has chosen to refer to our training as “Reentry” rather than “Forensic” because our focus is successful reintegration into society. The term “Peer” refers to individuals that share similar lived experiences, and the term “Specialist” refers to an individual highly skilled in a specific field. Accordingly, the term “Reentry Peer Specialist” refers to someone with shared lived experience around incarceration and mental health and/or substance use challenges who can work in a variety of settings to provide support to other people with criminal justice involvement who are seeking to find or maintain their own personal healing and recovery.
The role of a Reentry Peer Specialist will be to provide peer support services to individuals that are recently released or within 6 months from incarceration. They will share their knowledge and experience to assist their peers in navigating a system that is not necessarily designed in their favor. These individuals will be well equipped to work in multiple settings, such as: local mental health authorities, correctional facilities, mental hospitals, reentry programs, community based programs, etc.
A credential specifically for formerly incarcerated individuals will directly address the significant barrier to employment that many people face after release from incarceration. Employment is among the top five identified needs of those reentering society from incarceration, partially because of discrimination and stigma against people who have been formerly incarcerated and partially because of the lack of educational and occupational opportunities for people before and during incarceration. The Reentry Peer Specialist credential will also offer formerly incarcerated people with an opportunity to further their own recovery while providing support and hope to other people who may be trying to find their own way through reentry and recovery.
The core learning objectives of this training will involve participant’s self-exploration relative to: (1) Recovery from a Reentry Perspective, (2) Trauma, (3) Recidivism Intervention, (4) What it means to be a Peer Specialist, and (5) Maintaining a Whole Person Perspective. The training will be held over a 10-day period (various formats) and will be facilitated by trainers who also share lived experience around incarceration. Via Hope understands that ten days is not adequate to cover all of the intricacies surrounding reentry, but we feel that our curriculum will provide a strong foundation that prepares Reentry Peer Specialists to enter a variety of settings to provide peer support to formerly justice involved people. Furthermore, we have a strong team assembled to develop an excellent training and certification, with expertise in curriculum writing, evidenced-based support services, mental health, substance use, and lived experience with incarceration. Our team includes a lawyer, two LGBTQ advocates, a PhD in Human Services with a dissertation in support services, two formerly incarcerated individuals, over 20 years combined peer support services experience, a seasoned curriculum writer, and one of the country’s largest data/research and evaluation organizations.
There are currently a myriad of peer supports for different audiences. The Reentry Peer Specialist training opportunity will provide an innovative approach to reentry peer support. It will be reentry focused, trauma responsive, evidence and competency based. Our training will provide concrete professional tools and focus on addressing the current and past traumas people experience throughout the entire incarceration process. These tools will equip participants with the knowledge, strength, and intestinal fortitude that will help them to break the cycle of recidivism.
Via Hope is also in the process of creating a parallel training for potential employers of Reentry Peer Specialists and anyone involved in the administration of criminal justice programs called “Demystifying the Reentry Peer Workforce.” The purpose of Demystifying the Reentry Peer Workforce is to help staff and organizations understand what reentry peer support looks like and how it can help their organizations. The training is geared towards organizations who employ peer specialists, work with volunteer peer specialists or who will potentially employ peer specialists.
The criminal justice system is often referred to as the new mental health system because of the staggering amount of people with mental health challenges who become justice involved, in part due to the continued criminalization of mental health and substance use challenges. Via Hope actively works to make Texas systems more focused on recovery and resiliency by providing education, training, and consultation for people in recovery, their family members, youth, and mental health professionals. We believe that by creating innovative, evidenced-based peer support services like the Reentry Peer Specialist Certification, we can work to end the disturbing trend of criminalization and make our communities and our country more equitable and recovery-oriented places.
Funded by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health