City & County Leadership to Reduce the Use of Jails: Engaging Peers in Jail Use Reduction Strategies

Local leaders working toward goals as diverse as reducing jail use, addressing behavioral health needs, and reducing homelessness may want to consider utilizing a promising group: peer support workers. Peer support has been applied and evaluated for decades within behavioral health recovery and treatment. Engagement of peers has been shown to lower the cost of services, increase the use of community-based outpatient services over inpatient services, reduce rehospitalization rates, and increase quality of life outcomes. While the efficacy of peer support has been proven within the behavioral health community, there is also a great opportunity for the utilization of peers within the criminal justice system.

This introductory resource brief, co-written by the National League of Cities and Policy Research, Inc., highlights some of the policy and funding opportunities city and county leaders can explore to build on the success of early examples of communities that have utilized peer support as part of their continuum of care and in justice-related interventions. Peer support has been applied and evaluated for decades within behavioral health recovery and treatment.

The brief is organized into the following sections:

  • How can “peer support” apply in jail reduction efforts?
  • Why use peer supports in jail reduction strategies?
  • Local examples of peer supports engaged in criminal justice across the Sequential Intercept Model
  • Introductory steps for city leaders to build peer supports

This resource was first shared in 2020.

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