This brief reports on the features and management of the work of peer support specialists, who use their experience with behavioral health conditions and criminal justice involvement to support the work of various behavioral health criminal justice programs.
The brief highlights four key strategies in relation to the use of peer support specialists, based on interviews with peers who work with three Justice and Mental Health Collaboration grantee programs of the Council of State Governments Justice Center. One key strategy is to hire specialists who reflect the struggles and experiences of program participants. These similarities help peer support specialists serve as real-life role models who have overcome challenges and achieved personal recovery and community reentry goals pursued by group members currently engaged in similar challenges. A second key strategy is to ensure that the peer support specialist is welcomed by non-peer staff members based on an understanding of the resource benefit provided by each staff member. A third key strategy in working with peer support specialists is to provide supportive, ongoing supervision. This includes helping peer support specialists set boundaries with program participants. This can minimize the risk of vicarious traumatization and provide boundaries that prevent adverse peer interactions. A fourth key strategy is to include peer support specialists in policy-level discussions and promote them to leadership roles based on their experience with and understanding of the circumstances and behavioral issues being faced by members of a peer group.