Enacting lived experiences: Peer specialists with criminal justice histories

Stacey L. Barrenger, Emily K. Hamovitch, Melissa R. Rothman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Peer specialists are frequently employed in mental health settings, with growing evidence for positive impact on subjective aspects of recovery. As more individuals within the mental health system have criminal justice involvement, peer specialists with incarceration histories are increasingly important, yet little is known about how their experiences with the criminal justice system factor into their work. This study sought to understand the experiences of peer specialists with criminal justice histories and how they incorporate these experiences into their work. Methods: Purposive and snowball sampling was employed to recruit graduates from a peer training program. Three in-depth interviews were conducted each with 15 peer specialists who had incarceration experiences. Results: Thematic analysis revealed that Having and Sharing Lived Experiences formed the basis of their work as peer specialists. On this foundation, participants expounded on their specialized contributions in their work as peer specialists: Engagement, Priority of Relationship, Instilling Hope, and Providing an Alternative Service. Participants' criminal justice histories influenced how they approached their work, especially around using disclosure, developing relationships, and instilling hope. Conclusions and Implications for Practice: Peer specialists with incarceration histories may be a critical component toward recovery for consumers with criminal justice involvement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-16
Number of pages8
JournalPsychiatric Rehabilitation Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019


  • Incarceration histories
  • Lived experience
  • Peer specialists
  • Phenomenological interviews

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Professions (miscellaneous)
  • Rehabilitation
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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