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Incarcerated Peers: Changing Lives Inside and Out

Issue 33

Since its inception in 2019, recovery coaching within Maine’s Department of Corrections has emerged as a transformative force, reshaping the landscape of addiction treatment and rehabilitation behind bars.

Amidst a growing array of programs targeting substance use disorder within correctional facilities, the peer-led recovery coaching movement stands out for its profound impact on incarcerated individuals’ journeys toward recovery.

Data has shown that incarcerated individuals in the United States are at a significantly higher risk of overdose and death within the first two weeks of being released to the community than the general population.

Addressing the prevalent issue of substance use disorder among those serving sentences in the criminal justice system, the recovery coaching program represents a pivotal shift in approach for folks inside and out.

At the core of recovery coaching lies the voluntary engagement of residents giving and receiving support from their peers or undergoing training to become a coach themselves.

Emphasizing personal responsibility and accountability, the program promotes positive reinforcement for participation and program compliance, steering away from punitive measures. The motivation for change and growth among aspiring recovery coaches reflects a desire to break free from the cycle of incarceration and addiction.

Through a shared journey of personal development, recovery coaches empower their peers to articulate their aspirations and advocate for their needs — an invaluable process in an environment where personal agency is often diminished.

The training for Recovery Coach Academy and Ethical Considerations for Recovery Coaching equips participants with tools to navigate ethical dilemmas inherent or unique in the correctional setting. This commitment to ethical conduct not only elevates the standard of care but also fosters a living culture of integrity and responsibility within correctional facilities.

A tangible shift in culture is evident in the adoption of recovery-centric language and the acknowledgment of residents, rather than inmates, as individuals worthy of respect and dignity.

This shift extends beyond semantics, fostering a sense of community and mutual respect that transcends traditional divides between staff and residents.

The program serves to prepare residents for reintegration into the community. From accessing essential resources to outlining post-release plans, recovery coaches play a pivotal role in empowering residents to navigate the challenges of reentry with confidence and resilience.

Looking ahead, the collaboration between recovery coaches and local recovery community centers holds promise for seamless transitions and sustained support post-release.

By leveraging the power of peer support, the program not only facilitates individual recovery but also fosters community connection and resilience. In some communities, individuals already have a recovery coach paired with them before they are released.

As individuals within the criminal justice system reclaim agency over their lives, break down barriers to recovery, and build bridges in their communities, the program stands as a beacon of hope and empowerment — a testament to the enduring power of peer support in shaping lives and communities.

Josh Warren
Josh Warren
Josh Warren is the Statewide Recovery Coach Coordinator for the Maine Recovery Hub at the Portland Recovery Community Center. Josh's recovery led him to earn a degree in Mental Health and Human Services with a focus on substance abuse counseling and rehabilitation.

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