A New Mexico program trains prisoners as Peer Leaders able to educate on the risks of illicit substance use
The New Mexico Peer Education Project (NMPEP), a collaboration between Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) and the New Mexico Corrections Department, trains inmates to become Peer Educators on health concerns related to risky behaviors, including illicit substance use. The 40 hour program includes:
- instruction on health issues such as hepatitis C (HCV), HIV, and their relation to substance use disorders
- harm reduction techniques
- public presentation and leadership skills
- video-conferencing technology
A particular focus is on reducing risky behavior related to HCV transmission, but the program also increases perceived self-efficacy and self-worth of participants and their ability to reintegrate with the community upon release. Graduates of the program are eligible to receive certification as community health workers as well as assistance in job searches.
The motto of the program - "Prisoner health is community health" - reflects the fact that most incarcerated individuals eventually return to their communities. An Addiction Policy Forum report found that "....the New Mexico Peer Education Project has certified over 500 peer educators and reached almost 11,000 inmates through classes and mentorship."
The program had a powerful positive impact on peer educators giving them a unique skill set, a sense of agency, and a passion to help others.