By Anthony Tinsman
Ex-offender, CIT, and founder of PARfessionals, ICBRP and the NCPRP, Jorea Hardison has taken the politics out of recovery treatment. Supported by the SJM Family Foundation, Inc., Hardison's mission is to equip recovery professionals with an invaluable credential needed to provide services in a behavioral health or treatment setting: the National Certified Peer Recovery Professional (NCPRP) credential. Uniquely, prisoners are not excluded and may receive a special qualification, Correctional Peer To Peer Coach. Imprisoned candidates receive a grant at the time of the exam registration giving them access to a diverse group of professionals, training and support. The NCPRP Candidate Handbook (2014) advises all potential coaches "as you work through the application process, it is our hope that you consider the qualitative impact you will have."
There is need for qualitative impact. 25% of jail inmates have been treated at some point for mental or emotional problems (1), which frames the rampant drug and alcohol abuse issues that go unattended during incarceration. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) reported in 2013 that 24.6 million Americans age 12 and older are illicit drug users (2). Mass-incarceration and the war on drugs almost guarantees them a run-in with the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, the most effective testaments are in short supply. The high turnover rates in the mental health sector compound the problem. In 2009, research showed 55% of U.S. counties did not have ANY practicing behavioral mental health workers (3). None of this bodes well for prisoners, many of whom have well-established conditions prior to entering prison. Recovery alternatives, like a crowded island, casts off the most vulnerable who are in need.
Any practical solutions? There are several. It is worth looking into Mrs. Hardison's background to understand. Her dedication to peer-to-peer counseling was obvious even while she served time in FCI- Danbury. She instituted an ACE (American Council on Education accredited course) program in Non-Profit Management and Grantsmanship, utilizing training material provided by the National Social Rehabilitation & Re-entry Program (once offered by the SJM Family Foundation). "The program [was] good for someone who doesn't know about nonprofits or grants and doesn't have access to the internet," she explains. It offered prisoner-participants an opportunity to ... a) volunteer and give back to the community, b) expand on what they learned by taking an entry level job at a nonprofit, and c) contribute their education through formal enrollment." This type of commitment, the commitment to design and facilitate programs among your peers is key to any discussion about practical solutions to recovery treatment inside or outside of prisons.
Experience with my own re-entry program, Take a Load Off (TLO), makes this fact personal. Usually the candidates who volunteer to facilitate the courses are in need of more training than I can provide. It's a human thing, but the willingness of these prisoners proves there is a base for training to occur (4). The PARfessionals inmate survey concluded in 2014 identified a diverse body of candidates inside the industrial prison system, both state and federal. This doesn't fit the stereotype of violence and menace of prison life. As San Francisco Chronicle editor Peter Sussman wrote, "Nobility and pathos also characterize many prisoners, traits that are familiar to many lawyers, teachers, pastors, and social workers who have spent time in these remote institutions." (5) Armed with training and support, these prisoners could make a real difference.
Mrs. Hardison used her own advice and founded not one but THREE organizations after release. Each coordinates with and supports the other. This amazing story is worthy of broader press coverage, but in summary, her work and partnerships with mental health treatment professionals, SJM Family Foundation, Neurology Research Consultants, Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE), and Credly, as well as integrating the goals of the Recovery Support Strategic Initiative (SAMHSA, 2012), ensures that a serious, credible solution exists to curb the shortage of peer-to-peer behavioral health workers. Prisoners can participate to help fellow inmates, then continue their certification after release. It is a great opportunity and a new start.
Several factors have increased the demand for behavior mental health services, such as the Affordable Care Act, state re-entry initiatives, and the substance abuse rehabilitation industry. Prisoners can contact Allee R. Simmons Jacobs-M'Namee, President, The SJM Group, and request information about the NCPRP Candidate Handbook. Just include a SASE (6). It is a potential career for many ex-offenders willing to open themselves up to change. The potential national impacts are stunning as well. But "impact" takes on a whole new meaning after one look at Mrs. Hardison and her accomplishments, no doubt she is the most recent ex-offender to break through dual stereotypes: ex-offender, and mental health consumer.
(1) Bureau Of Justice Statistics
(2, 3) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, Results from the 2013 National Survey of Drug use and health: Summary of National Findings. NSDUH Series H-48. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863. Rockville, MD., Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, 2014.
(4) American Prison Writing Archive, http://www.dhintiative.org/projects/apwa/, Take a Load Off. Incarcerated Voices, The Free Form Radio Initiative, Scott McWilliams, Director, FRI@stfrancis.com
(5) Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment, Media In Prisons, Ed. Marc Maur and Meda Chesney-Lind (New Press, 2002)
(6) SJM Group, PO BOX 155601, Ft Worth, TX., 76155 (972)-636-5257, www.prisonerresources.com, National Certified Peer Recovery Candidate Handbook (2014).
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