Need for Peer Support Groups in Jail Diversion Programs (AOT)

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CYNTHIA CASTANEDA: “As a peer/consumer who was once involved in the justice system, I know the importance of gaining treatment… I had a few encounters with the justice system until I was forced into treatment. Going to treatment gave me the tools necessary to achieve recovery. Without those tools, I may have remained trapped in a cycle of contact with the justice system. My conclusion was that recovery was not possible without treatment. I am living proof of the results.

The GAINS Center estimates approximately 800,000 persons with mental health issues are admitted annually to U.S. jails. Among these admissions, 72% also meet criteria for co-occurring substance use disorders. I was part of those statistics a few years back, so I would like to emphasize the importance of including peer support services in jail diversion programs as a form of treatment. A peer in recovery can be more easily accepted by the criminal justice population. The consumer is more likely to listen and better connect to a peer. The results of treatment are more effective. Aside from the benefit of having lived experience, peers have the gift of being able to understand firsthand what a consumer is going through. Peer support played a role in my recovery and made it possible for me to look up to someone in a similar situation and believe that I could overcome any mental health issues and stay in recovery as they had.

by Cynthia Castaneda, ATCC West Texas Community Supervision and Corrections Department Peer Representative.

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