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Forensic Peer Support Project

In October of 2015, a three-year Statewide Consumer Network grant was awarded to PMHCA by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). This grant enabled further development of the training curriculum completed under the initial grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

During the time between December 2011 and October 2015, Peer Support Within the Criminal Justice System training was offered only under contract with various organizations who could purchase the trainers’ time.

Liz Woodley was re-hired by PMHCA in January 2016 to continue work on training, as defined by the grant. We again collaborated with Drexel University's Behavioral Healthcare Education (BHE) of the College of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry to further enhance the curriculum and to develop a Trauma Informed Care Training for Forensic Peer Specialists (TIPS).

Twenty four trainers were originally trained and many continue to update their skills and provide the training. Additional sessions are provided to trainers who wish to present TIPS. At this time, no additional trainers are being recruited.

Training is offered throughout Pennsylvania and in other states which request it.

Goals Met

The goal of the project was to help state and county governments, and related service providers, to divert people with mental illness and/or co-occurring substance use disorders, from going into the criminal justice system. The project also aimed to help those already involved in the criminal justice system, at any level, to focus on their individual paths to recovery. Diversion would occur through the use of Certified Peer Specialists who were trained to begin forensic peer support in their local areas.

OMHSAS has long recognized peer support as key to a recovery-oriented mental health system. Forensic peer support training was seen as another step toward enhanced, recovery-oriented services. The training was also expected to lead to increased employment opportunities for Certified Peer Specialists and, ultimately, to a reduction in the number of individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system.

A Certified Peer Specialist was hired by PMHCA in December 2010 to guide project activities. Liz Woodley brought experience as a Certified Peer Specialist and an understanding of the effects on people of becoming involved with the criminal justice system.

Liz and her supervisor, Pat Madigan, Community Outreach Coordinator, are excited to announce that throughout the project, more trainings were completed than were initially proposed.

The Behavioral Health Alliance of Rural Pennsylvania (BHARP) was excited by this training opportunity and contracted for two trainings for their 23 member counties, a Train the Trainer and a Peer Support within the Criminal Justice System three day session.

Two initial trainings were held in Dauphin County in March 2011 and in Allegheny County in April 2011 prior to broaden the field for participation in Train the Trainer sessions. In total, two train-the-trainer sessions and nine regional trainings were conducted throughout the state.

A total of 162 individuals received forensic peer support training, including 43 trainers and 5 advanced-level facilitators. All but one of the trainers who completed the May 2011 train-the-trainer session were given an opportunity to facilitate subsequent forensic peer support training.


Lynn Keltz, Executive Director of PMHCA, testified on May 9, 2013 at a Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on Mental Health Issues and Criminal Justice System. View testimony.

Schedule a Training

PMHCA is available to contract for provision of the three day Forensic Peer Support Trainings with any interested party.

For more information about this project, contact Liz Woodley, Forensic Peer Support Coordinator or Pat Madigan, Community Outreach Coordinator, or call 717-564-4930.

Learn More

Resources on forensic peer support and its impact on people with mental health and co-occurring disorders are available at the Pennsylvania Mental Health and Justice Center of Excellence website.