By Megan Randall
Texas jails and prisons have become today’s de facto treatment centers for Texans with mental illness. In local Texas county jails, for example, up to 40 percent of bookings in 2013 were for individuals who had previously received public mental health services. Research has shown that inmates with mental illness have difficulty maintaining access to mental health care services post-release, and that they are at a higher risk of returning to jail or prison or winding up in the emergency room – at high fiscal and human cost to our communities. Barriers to successful re-entry can include a lack of continuity in mental or physical care and difficulty establishing access to basic services such as housing or transportation.
Mental health peer support is a cost-effective, evidence-based practice in which an individual with a lived experience of mental illness provides guidance and mentorship to another individual with lived experience. Studies have shown that peer support improves clinical and social outcomes for individuals with mental illness
Peer support re-entry programming can play an important role in reducing human suffering and containing costs by ensuring that inmates successfully transition from correctional facilities into more cost-effective and clinically appropriate community-based care.
Peerstar, LLC, a private provider organization in Pennsylvania, has established an innovative peer support re-entry program in Pennsylvania county jails. Peerstar utilizes a peer in-reach program model where trained and certified Forensic Peer Specialists go into local jails to provide peer support services to inmates with mental illness prior to release as part of the re-entry process. A preliminary program evaluation performed by the Yale School of Medicine’s Program for Recovery and Community Health has shown significant reductions in the rates of Peerstar program participants returning to jail or prison.
We recommend that Texas develop a peer support re-entry pilot program in a local county jail, modeled after Peerstar’s successful peer in-reach program. Peer support is a powerful practice that fosters hope, resiliency, and recovery for individuals with a lived experience of mental illness. Texas has an opportunity to provide national policy leadership in a growing field at the pivotal intersection of mental health and criminal justice. For more information about peer support re-entry programming and recommendations for a Texas pilot program, please read our new report, From Recidivism to Recovery: The Case for Peer Support in Texas Correctional Facilities.