Forensic peer specialists: Training, employment, and lived experience [2020]

Objective: Despite calls for increased peer support services for individuals involved with the criminal justice system, little is known about the training, employment, and characteristics of forensic peer specialists (FPSs). Pennsylvania developed the nation’s first FPS program and remains at the forefront of the field. This paper responds to three research questions regarding forensic peer support in Pennsylvania, assessing: (a) employment patterns and demographic characteristics; (b) work tasks and sites; and (c) challenges and benefits of working as an FPS. Method: Data are drawn from a larger mixed-methods study of forensic peer support in Pennsylvania, including a detailed online survey of 117 FPS-trained workers, followed by 16 qualitative interviews with a subset of survey respondents. Results: While all survey respondents completed forensic peer support training, only 36% (n = 44) have been employed as FPSs. 96% of survey respondents report having used mental health services, compared to 55% reporting past incarceration. FPSs spend the majority of their work time providing individual support to peer clients and work in multiple settings. Additionally, FPSs report both benefits and challenges related to their work. Conclusion and Implications for Practice: Study results suggest that FPS characteristics, practices, and work settings simultaneously align with and differ from nonspecialized peer support services. Program developers and advocates should focus attention on expanding employment opportunities, and FPSs with lived experience should be prioritized for these positions. Despite significant implementation barriers, FPSs are passionate about this work and promote the expansion of the field.

Adams, Wallis E., Lincoln, Alisa K.
Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 43(3), 2020