National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy

Battling a New Era of Mental Health Abuses Behind Bars:
A workshop to strengthen, promote, and empower
peer advocacy solutions
Angela Agnew

It is estimated that over 14 million arrests take place each year, and many of those arrested are drawn into prolonged contact with the courts, jails, prisons and community corrections.  In 2004 alone, 12.6 million individuals passed through United States jails — and an estimated 60% of people inside those jails are labeled with major mental health disorders.  In 1999, the number of people in prison with diagnosed serious mental illness was estimated to be 280,000, prompting one researcher to refer to prisons and jails as ‘hospitals of last resort’. Most alarming is that national data indicate that incarcerated individuals with mental illness tend to receive longer sentences and serve longer periods behind bars than those without.

We will examine the unique barriers psychiatric survivors of the criminal justice system encounter while transitioning from correctional institutions to independent living.  The workshop will examine ways in which formerly incarcerated people have been left out of mainstream mental health consumer movements.

The workshop will also discuss the role criminal justice peer advocates can play in promoting self-determination and protecting individuals from abuse and how this role is distinct from a mental health advocate or peer specialist. 

This workshop will offer a toolkit to participants for how they can mobilize and develop peer-based training and advocacy supports for people involved with the criminal justice system.  Participants will walk away with sample curricula, job and program descriptions, funding ideas and tactical steps in order to replicate a successful program.  The workshop will also highlight other (and encourage participants” sharing) of best practices to redress the lack of consumer-led advocacy, supports and programming within jails and prisons.