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skeller - (9/14/2021 4:06:18 PM)
September 2021: Peer Drug Treatment Counselors

Question: We think some of the individuals who complete our 6-month RSAT program and still have time to serve would make excellent peer drug treatment counselors. Are there such programs elsewhere around the country?

Answer #1: The answer is yes with more and more being implemented in prisons and jails across the country every year. 
A growing number of states provide training programs for inmates who want to become peer recovery support specialists. In some states, the trained inmates can become certified by the state, qualifying for payment for their services once released. Each state has its own training and certification credentialing process. As of 2016, most states had a formalized process for training and credentialling peer support specialists, see  In fact, there is now a national program that allows peers to further advance their skills and get national credentialing. Mental Health America in collaboration with peer leaders across the country led the efforts to establish the national certification as gateway toward the advancement and expansion of the field of peer support, see

Research shows the effectiveness of peer support specialists in many domains, including increasing engagement in treatment, sustained recovery, promoting a sense of hope and empowerment, improving overall quality of life, and decreasing costly services such as hospitalizations. For this reason, peer support programs are being incorporated into all stages of the criminal justice system, including prisons and jails. These correctional peer programs are unique in that they serve a dual purpose of providing peer driven and crisis intervention recovery services and supports for incarcerated populations and are also a gateway for professional employment of the trained peers upon release. Correctional peers are specifically trained in communication, trauma, suicide prevention, community inclusion, wellness techniques and advocacy.

As you are obviously aware, the peers can supplement existing clinical services and help to mitigate certain situations, thereby providing additional resources to aide counseling and other staff. For example, one prison program assigns peers when an inmate’s behavior becomes threatening prior to implementing force or cell extractions. Others use peers to help those experiencing suicidal ideation, emotional difficulties, or experiencing a decline in mental health. Peers are becoming more and more in demand as a recognized service both behind the walls and as an integral component of reentry. Peers who reenter the community can receive additional training on system navigation and provide a critical linkage to natural supports and recovery services in the community. Peers can assist individuals in navigating the behavioral health services system, in achieving recovery, accompanying individuals to services to ensure the individual is making a successful transition to community, supporting the individual in connecting/reconnecting with pro-social family, friends, and other natural supports and providing advocacy that promotes awareness of mental health and co-occurring disorders while reducing misconceptions, stigma and discrimination.

These prison peer training programs go beyond the resources of most RSAT programs, but RSAT personnel can be essential to helping their facilities identifying prospective peers and helping to implement and be a part of a peer training program.

Answer #2: If you go on this website under MAT Resources and Assistance, click on the training video “Diverting Defendants to Treatment.”  It showcases a 30-day drug treatment program for pretrial jail detainees in the Essex County Jail.  The program utilizes peer counselors recruited from the jail’s longer term RSAT program to work with the detainees.  It has found the RSAT peers to be powerful resources to get the pretrial detainees to commit to treatment and sign up for post-release drug treatment.

Answer #3: Some correctional officials resist the introduction of peers for SUD treatment and the like. They need to be educated that peer support is an extremely effective way of supporting the recovery of individuals with behavioral health challenges who are involved in the criminal justice system. Overwhelmingly, we know that peer support works! There is documented evidence that people recover from behavioral health challenges and fundamental to recovery for many is peer support, as is the concept of the development of a mutually beneficial relationship between individuals with similar life experiences, especially the duality of justice involvement and behavioral health. Individuals who have experienced mental illness.  Those with substance use disorders and experience incarceration and trauma have a unique ability to support each other based on these shared experiences. Research shows the effectiveness of peer support in many domains, including increasing engagement in treatment, sustained recovery, promoting a sense of hope and empowerment, improving overall quality of life, and decreasing costly services such as hospitalizations. More commonly, peer support services (PSS) are being integrated into many programs as alternatives to incarceration and criminal justice involvement. Local and state jurisdictions are embedding PSS’ across the Sequential Intercept Model beginning with Intercept 0. Examples include PSS’ employed in Crisis Intervention Teams, at crisis centers, mobile crisis services and partnerships with law enforcement. In subsequent intercepts, PSS are integrated into the arrest, detention, arraignment, and pre-trial processes as advocates, supports and providing a connection to behavioral health services. Other examples include PSS’ in navigating the public service systems such as Medicare/Medicaid, vocational skills, education, and more practical services such as transportation, and reintegration needs including locating shelter and food to providing a pro-social connection for those under parole or probation supervision.

View these journal articles to learn more about the effect peer support programs has on incarcerated populations:

Peer support on the "inside and outside": building lives and reducing recidivism for people with mental illness returning from jail

Peer recovery services for persons returning from prison: Pilot randomized clinical trial investigation of support