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CIT in Action

May 2008: Vol. 3, Issue 5

Feature Story: Forensic Peer Specialists:  A Workforce for the Future

Contributor: LaVerne D. Miller, Esq.

Since 1994, the Howie the Harp Peer Advocacy Center has trained mental health consumers to work in human services.  The Center’s mission is to increase the recruitment, hiring, retention, and integration of peer staff in the workforce.  In 2001, the Center started the STARR Program, Steps to a Renewed Reality Forensic Peer Specialist Training Program, the nation’s first program to train consumers with histories of incarceration to work in human services.  Most of our graduates work as forensic peer specialists in programs providing services to other consumers with histories of incarceration.  They work in diversion and reentry programs as well as other agencies providing services to this targeted population.

The STARR program consists of four core components: classroom training, supervised internship, placement and post placement supports and continuing education.  The classroom training lasts for approximately 6 months and prepares trainees for entry level positions in human services.  Training modules include: "Confronting Your Criminal Justice History," "Case Management and Service Coordination," "Understanding the Criminal Justice System," "Peer Counseling" and "Conflict Resolution and Mediation."  Classes are taught by trainers who are not only subject matter experts but who are also committed to successfully integrating peer staff in the workplace, and share our values of resiliency and recovery.  Trainees also receive job readiness training to ensure that they are fully prepared for the demands of the workplace.

We are especially proud of the dynamic learning environment that we have created.  We use the adult based learning strategies used by community colleges to teach non-traditional students.  Trainees are encouraged to use their experiences as a knowledge base and to "do" as opposed to "listen."  Each trainee must successfully complete a three to six month internship in order to graduate from the program.  The Center has successfully developed supervised internships in programs such as mental health court, jail diversion, prison re-entry, supportive housing, case management and assertive community treatment.  Trainees are required to attend weekly support groups throughout the term of the internship.

The Center is committed to placing each graduate in a competitive employment position.  Here, we utilize a job matching strategy, placing graduates in positions that meet their preferences but also meet the needs of the prospective employer.  Graduates do mock interviews and receive other support in preparation for job interviews.  The Center also assists graduates in obtaining dress attire for both interviews and work. Finally, the Center provides ongoing job retention support to graduates based on the individual needs of graduates.  Graduates can attend the weekly Career Club, peer support groups or individual counseling.

One of the Center’s goals is to assist trainees and graduates in establishing careers in human services.  The Center’s Quarterly Continuing Education Series provides in depth training on new or emerging practices.  This part of the program is open to any consumer working in human services and is free.

Despite all of the progress that consumers have achieved in the workforce and workplace over the past 10 years, we still continue to face stigma and discrimination.  The Center provides technical assistance and support to employer/providers to assist them in creating healthy and supportive work environments for all staff.

In closing, we are extremely proud of the accomplishments of the past seven years.  We did not imagine that the STARR Program would have the impact that it continues to have on our graduates, the consumers they provide services to, and the mental health and criminal justice systems.  We continue to advocate for systems change where policies and practices create unreasonable barriers to enjoying the rights and privileges of citizenship for consumers with histories of incarceration.

LaVerne Miller is the Director of the Howie the Harp Peer Advocacy Center. For more information about the Center please call them at 212-865-0775.

Advocacy Spotlight: CIT Grant-Writing Template

Program Structure

This template is designed to help you describe the structure of your CIT program. Please feel free to copy, paste and alter the text.

Visit to see other CIT Grant-Writing Templates. These templates are designed to help grant writers applying for CIT funding answer questions that commonly appear on grant applications. You should always tailor these templates to the needs of your program and the requirements of the funder. You should also, whenever possible, include local data and information.

News and Announcements

NAMI National Convention To Feature CIT

The NAMI National Convention is fast approaching! The Convention will take place in Orlando, Florida and is scheduled for June 13-16. There are several sessions related to CIT and criminalization planned, including:

  • Saturday June 14, 2:00-3:30: Opening Plenary: Treatment, Not Jail. This session will feature Judge Steven Leifman, discussing Florida’s Mental Health/Criminal Justice Transformation Project.
  • Saturday June 14, 9:45-12:30: Special Session: CIT – A Model for All Communities. This session will feature the CIT programs of Johnstown, PA and Chicago, IL and will be moderated by Major Sam Cochran.

For more information about the Convention, visit our website

CIT National Conference: Call for Presentations Extended 

Organizers of the 2008 CIT National Conference announced that they are extending the deadline for submissions for presentations to June 16th. Examples of specialty tracks the that organizers are planning include: Developing a CIT Program, Evolving and Expanding Your CIT Program, Tools and Resources for CIT Officers, Research, Clinical Programs and Interventions, Effective Community Collaboration and Initiatives, and Consumer Perspective/Issues.  Workshops addressing other areas will also be given consideration by the Committee. For a copy of the submission form, go to the NAMI Georgia website. Submissions should be postmarked by June 16, 2008 and sent to:

Georgia Bureau of Investigation
Attn: Rhiannon Morgan
3121 Panthersville Road
Decatur, GA 30034
Fax: 770-270-8810

Vermont Legislature Passes Justice Reinvestment Act    

This month, the Vermont Legislature passed a bill designed to cut corrections spending and reinvest the money in programs for substance abuse treatment, vocational training and transitional housing for justice involved individuals. Vermont’s prison population has doubled in the last decade, even though violent crime has declined. The bill would cut $3 million from the corrections budget by closing one correctional facility and reorganizing two other facilities. Funding to care for inmates’ acute mental health needs was cut from the bill. Governor Douglas is expected to sign the bill. To learn more, listen to Vermont Public Radio’s story on the legislation or read the bill.

Justice Center Seeks Four Law Enforcement Agencies to Serve as Reentry Learning Sites

The Council of State Governments Justice Center, in partnership with the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), has issued a request for applications from law enforcement agencies interested in participating in a Law Enforcement Reentry Learning Sites Initiative. This initiative will focus on the law enforcement response to the large numbers of individuals returning to the community from prison and jail each year, many of whom are re-arrested for a new crime or re-incarcerated for violating their conditions of release. The project overview and application are available on the Justice Center's reentry and law enforcement web page. For more details, contact Laura Draper at 646-383-5722. Applications must be submitted by June 16, 2008 to:

Council of State Governments Justice Center
100 Wall Street, 20th Floor,
New York, NY 10005
Fax: 212-482-2344

Unique Award Presented to Kellie Meyer and NAMI Indiana

Over the past few years, NAMI Indiana has worked extensively with the Indiana Department of Corrections on a variety of initiatives to better prepare correctional officers to respond effectively and compassionately to inmates experiencing the symptoms of serious mental illnesses.  Thus, NAMI Indiana’s Kellie Meyer was not surprised when she recently received a call requesting her presence at a meeting with the Commissioner of the Department, J. David Donahue.   However, she was surprised when she walked into the meeting room and was presented with an award by Commissioner Donahue and his top staff for her stellar work in “unlocking the mysteries of mental illness in corrections.”  This was not any old award either.  The award was presented in the form of an old lock from a prison cell mounted on a wood block.  According to Kellie, “it must weigh at least 50 pounds!” 

NAMI Indiana has spearheaded a number of initiatives to unlock the mystery of mental illness in the correctional system, including training of correctional staff throughout the state and Peer to Peer training in a number of correctional facilities.  Kellie would be the first to tell you that she has not done this alone and that many others within NAMI Indiana, including current President Teresa Hatten, Past-President Joe Vanable, Mike Kempf, NAMI Indiana Executive Director Pamela McConey and Joan Lafuze should be credited as well for these remarkable programs.  Congratulations to Kellie and to everyone at NAMI Indiana who have worked so hard to make these programs a success!

Helpful Links:

NAMI National Convention

NAMI’s In Our Own Voice Education Program

Council of State Governments Justice Center

Comments or Suggestions?

Please let us know what you think we should include in future editions of CIT in Action by emailing Laura Usher at