Forensic Peer Mentor Program Expands to Help More Georgia Returning Citizens

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Cohort 3 convened at GDC’s State Offices South at Tift College in Forsyth, GA for the 40 hour Forensic Peer Mentor Training, facilitated by Jill Mays (DBHDD; 1st row, 3rd from the left), Jonathan “DJ” Rees (The Main Link, Pennsylvania; 1st row, 2nd from right), and Sharon Williams (GMHCN; 2nd row, far right).

In 2014, Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), Department of Corrections (GDC), and the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network (GMHCN) embarked on a partnership to offer innovative peer support to Georgia’s returning citizens through the Forensic Peer Mentor Program. In 2015, the partnership expanded to include the newly formed Department of Community Supervision (DCS). Plans are underway for the program to expand into additional facilities in January 2017.

On November 28, 2016, the third cohort of 15 certified peer specialists (CPS) and certified addiction recovery empowerment specialists (CARES) began the weeklong training designed to help them use their own experience in the criminal justice system and their recovery from a behavioral health disorder to help the people that they will support.  As forensic peer mentors, they will help individuals leaving correctional facilities with transition/release planning; obtaining stable housing; employment; disability benefits; transportation coordination; linkage to community behavioral  health services and recovery supports; and learning new skills.

The training was facilitated by Jonathan “DJ” Rees, a subject matter expert on the forensic peer movement, as well as the Sequential Intercept Model, an emerging best practice that assists communities in identifying points of interception along the criminal justice system continuum where stakeholders can intervene to prevent individuals with mental illness from going to jail/prison due to offenses that may be related to their symptoms.

According to Rees, “when returning citizens are released from jail, they face challenges like discrimination in being hired for a job and finding housing in the community.  Despite these challenges, peer support can reduce the recidivism rate of people returning to jail.”

Upcoming program expansion will include placement of forensic peer mentors at four GDC state prison sites, two DCS day reporting centers, one mental health court, and one DBHDD regional hospital. This expansion brings the total number of the forensically trained CPS and CARES workforce across the state to 37, and increases the number of worksites from 11 to 17.

“Since enrolling our first returning citizen in April of 2015 into the Forensic Peer Mentor program, the program has really taken off,” said Jill Mays, assistant director of DBHDD’s Office of Adult Mental Health and coordinator of the Forensic Peer Mentor Program.  “Data shows that we have been able to greatly increase successful re-entry and reduce the recidivism rate for individuals with mental illness and/or co-occurring substance use disorders who are being released from prison or on probation/parole.  Our belief is that with support from the forensic peer mentors and other appropriate community resources, all returning citizens have the capacity to live and thrive in the community.”

Veterans’ Day Event at West Central Regional Hospital

vetdaywcgrh2016West Central Georgia Regional Hospital, along with three veterans service organizations, hosted a special recognition lunch event for staff, client, and special guest veterans in observance of Veterans Day last month.

The local veterans service organizations included the American Veterans (AMVETS) Post 9, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 12110, and the Marine Corps League Detachment 1402. The mission of these organizations is to assist veterans and their families.

The event was coordinated by WCGRH staff member Brent Eaton, who is also a veteran and member of the veterans service organizations which supported the event. Volunteers who also helped put on the event included hospital staff members of the employee appreciation function team. Guests included Edward L. Richards post commander of AMVETS, Donald Anthony Commander of VFW Post 12110, Mackey Carter Chaplain of VFW Post 12110, Charles Youmans member of AMVETS and VFW.

Regional Hospital Administrator John Robertson welcomed the guests, and Eugene Brown provided the invocation. Brent Eaton awarded 50 staff and client veterans with a certificate of appreciation for their years of service in the United States Military. Veteran and active duty service members represented included the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National and State Guard, and Army Reserve.

58th annual Mayors’ Christmas Motorcade bring holiday cheer to state hospitals

ecrhmotorcade2016Cities across Georgia participated in the 58th annual Georgia Municipal Association’s Mayors’ Christmas Motorcade, donating gifts to individuals at DBHDD’s state hospitals.

The event is named for its inaugural 1959 procession which provided gifts to individuals living at what is now Central State Hospital in Milledgeville. Governor Ernest Vandiver started the motorcade in 1958 to raise awareness for mental health across the state.

“The Mayors’ Motorcade is sort of the centerpiece of the hospital’s holiday celebration because [the people we serve] don’t have an opportunity to go home to their families,” said Andy Mannich, regional hospital administrator for Georgia Regional Hospital in Savannah.

According to the association, the fund and gift drive brings comfort items and personal necessities to more than 1,000 people with developmental disabilities and behavioral health needs.