Innovative Mental Health Peer Support Program Comes to Texas Jails

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Last week, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) announced it will support three peer support re-entry pilot program sites, funded through a $1 million budget rider passed by the Legislature in 2015. 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. By ensuring a smooth transition from county jails to community mental health centers, peer support re-entry programs can close the revolving door for inmates with a mental illness.

Across the state, numerous qualified Local Mental Health Authorities (LMHA) applied to be a pilot site. Initially projected costs would only support two sites; however, due to the proposals received, three sites were selected last week. Implementation of the peer support re-entry pilot program will start April 1, 2016 in  Harris County, Tarrant County, and Tropical Texas (which serves Cameron, Hildago, and Willacy counties)..

As seen in Travis County, data show there is a rising number of inmates with mental illness entering and exiting the criminal justice system. This is not particular to Travis County, but common in numerous counties across the state.

Our report From Recidivism to Recovery: The Case for Peer Support in Texas Correctional Facilities found that mental health peer support is a cost effective, evidence-based practice that improves clinical and social outcomes for individuals with mental illness. The program can support recovery, improve continuity of care, and reduce recidivism, thus providing costs savings for the state and local governments. This pilot will help identify models and pathways for addressing mental health issues through peer support in the Texas criminal justice system.

Partners in implementing the pilot program include Via Hope, the entity that trains and certifies peer specialists. They created a curriculum in consultation with a workgroup that comprised a majority of participants having a lived experience of mental illness and involvement with criminal justice. The curriculum will be used to train certified peer specialists to work with individuals who are tranisitioning from incarceration into the community.

The Hogg Foundation, which has a long-standing interest in the development and use of peer support re-entry programs in Texas, will be overseeing the facilitiation of the pilot evaluation.

Katharine Ligon, CPPP Mental Health Policy Analyst, and Imelda McClendon, CPPP Research and Planning Intern, contributed to this post.

At the Center for Public Policy Priorities, we believe in a Texas that offers everyone the chance to compete and succeed in life. We envision a Texas where everyone is healthy, well-educated, and financially secure. We want the best Texas - a proud state that sets the bar nationally by expanding opportunity for all. CPPP is an independent public policy organization that uses data and analysis to advocate for solutions that enable Texans of all backgrounds to reach their full potential. We dare Texas to be the best state for hard-working people and their families.

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