Big News!: CASES & the Justice Peer Initiative Win the Recovery Innovation Challenge

CASES is thrilled to be selected in a joint application with the NY Justice Peer Initiative (JPI) as one of ten winners nationwide of the first-ever Recovery Innovation Challenge, awarded by the US Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SAMHSA launched the Challenge contest earlier this year to identify innovations developed by peer-run or community-based organizations that advance recovery. SAMHSA defines recovery as “a process of change through which individuals who experience mental and/or substance use disorders improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.” 

The CASES-JPI application highlighted CASES’ work over the past 22 years to develop and implement effective community-based services—including alternative-to-incarceration programs—for people living with serious mental illnesses (SMI) who are impacted by involvement in New York City’s criminal legal system. The first of these CASES programs, the Nathaniel Project, was named for a man whose schizophrenia went undiagnosed and untreated for 15 years as he cycled in and out of courtrooms and correctional facilities from his late teens to his early 30s. One of the first clients in CASES services for people living with SMI, Nathaniel’s path to recovery included multiple years of engagement with CASES programs. He has now been in recovery for many years, with housing and no contact with the criminal legal system.   

In 2020, CASES joined a coalition of government, nonprofit provider, and community stakeholders to support the launch of the NY Justice Peer Initiative (JPI). A Justice Peer is an individual who uses their unique lived experience of recovery and the criminal legal system along with skills honed through training to support the recovery of people still ensnared in that system. Justice Peers work alongside other public sector staff to model what is possible, spread hope, and destigmatize criminal legal involvement.  

“The Justice Peer movement in NY centers peer support as a movement, revolutionizing how impacted people provide evidence-based responses through mutual support,” JPI CEO Helen “Skip” Skipper said. “Justice Peers can be inserted at every stage of involvement in the criminal legal system and are people who use their professional training and lived experience to support others facing similar challenges and to infuse recovery and wellness. We lead by example, instilling hope and determination to promote connection and achieve transformation at the individual, social, and structural level.” 

CASES is currently providing fiscal sponsorship for the JPI as it works to achieve 501(c)(3) status as an independent peer-run nonprofit organization. The innovation represented by JPI’s centering of peer empowerment in the achievement of recovery and criminal legal system transformation is a fitting next evolution of CASES’ development of a unique continuum of justice-specialist outpatient behavioral health services supporting recovery and healing for people with criminal legal system involvement.  

“One reason I am thrilled to join CASES is its more than 20-year history of integrating Peer Specialists as part of innovative program teams working closely with clients to support their individual recovery journeys,” CASES CEO Jonathan McLean said. “The partnership with JPI is advancing CASES’ approaches, including through development of career ladders to ensure peers and other people with lived experience have increasing opportunity to shape and lead the work of CASES.” 

To learn more about the work of CASES and the NY Justice Peer Initiative and our commitment to supporting recovery, please view our joint video submission to SAMHSA embedded above. 

Recovery is possible. Criminal legal system transformation is imperative. DONATE today to support the award-winning work of CASES to advance healing and recovery for New Yorkers living with mental illnesses who are impacted by involvement in the criminal legal system.