Watch full briefing HERE.

During the weekly Westchester briefing, Latimer discussed:

  • Latimer was joined Village of Briarcliff Manor Mayor Steven Vescio
  • Deputy Commissioner Department of Community Mental Health Joseph Glazer and First Deputy Commissioner Department of Corrections Nory Padilla joined to discuss a new program that unites both mental health and addiction peer training at the Westchester County Jail named “Lives Forward”
  • Director of Policy & Programs, Small Business and Chambers of Commerce Shari Rosen Ascher and Director of Minority and Women-Owned Business Development and Immigrant Affairs Martha Lopez also joined to discuss the Cybersecurity/IT Job Fair on 2/8 and Worker Owned Coop event on 2/29
  • Upcoming County Parks & Heritage Events

Unique Westchester County Program “Lives Forward” Will Train Those who are Incarcerated to Become Dually-Certified Behavioral Health Peers

Westchester County Jail to Become First Site of Program to Fill a Shortage of Trained Para-Professionals for Mental Health and Addiction Treatment

(White Plains, NY) – The Westchester County Departments of Community Mental Health (DCMH) and Corrections have teamed up to implement a new program that unites both mental health and addiction peer training at the Westchester County Jail. Called “Lives Forward,” the Program will connect people who are successfully in recovery known as ‘peers,’ with those who are currently seeking recovery. The hope is that by sharing life experiences together, the peers and those being guided into recovery will achieve greater health outcomes and reduce recidivism. At the same time, the County will be helping to fill a shortage of trained para-professionals for mental health and addiction treatment.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said: “There is great value in having the support of someone who has been through what you have been through. A sense of connection and camaraderie can help bolster your own drive toward success. That applies to all of us, but especially people who are pursuing their recovery and trying to make a better life for themselves and those they love – and those who love them. I believe that this new model will be a huge success, and we will soon see it being replicated in other parts of our state and country.”

Peer supports have become a cornerstone of addiction and mental health recovery; so much so that there is a shortage of properly trained and certified peers. Hospitals, residential providers, outpatient clinics, mobile crisis teams, problem-solving courts and more are all seeking trained, certified peers to incorporate into their systems of care. To address this shortage in Westchester, the first-of-its-kind program will bring training, certification and ultimately employment opportunities to people with mental health and addiction needs while they’re in the Westchester County Jail.

“Lives Forward” brings together two separate community training providers, and for the first time, will consecutively train the two certifications to one group of students – individuals living with addiction, mental health and criminal justice backgrounds, while they reside in the Westchester County Jail. Combined, the programs involve over 90 hours of classroom-style training. Participants will be selected by County Corrections and program staff.

The certifications are overseen through two state agencies, the NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH) certifying “Peer Specialists” and the Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) certifying “Certified Recovery Peer Advocates (CRPAs)”. In partnership with Westchester County, the OMH certification training will be provided by the Mental Health Empowerment Project (MHEP), based in Mount Vernon, and the OASAS certification training will be provided by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence/Westchester, Inc.(NCADD), based in White Plains. Funding for the program will come from Westchester County’s opioid lawsuit settlement funds.

Working with DCMH, the community providers will further serve as a ‘clearinghouse’ to ensure the dually-certified peers, upon return to the community, are connected with potential employers, anticipating expeditious employment as para-professionals.

Westchester County DCMH Commissioner Michael Orth said: “Co-occurring disorders can be complex and challenging to treat, and the mental health and addiction treatment systems do not always clearly align. Lives Forward will develop well-qualified peers who can help people navigate the array of service providers and treatment modalities.”

Westchester County Commissioner of Corrections Joseph Spano said: “We pride ourselves on the work we do with individuals while they are residing in our County facility. We strive to meet their needs, help them grow and make a better way for themselves. ‘Lives Forward’ will be a tremendous step for many individuals to help themselves through making a commitment to helping others.”

Westchester County DCMH Deputy Commissioner Joseph A. Glazer, who conceived and developed the program, said: “We draw the project’s name from the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who said that ‘life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’ For so many people living with addiction and mental health needs, in combination with their involvement in the criminal justice system, the future appears lonely, isolated and hopeless. But in fact, it is their past that was those things, and with recovery as a goal, and support and guidance from those who have been where they are, their future can be positive and fulfilling.”

Mental Health Empowerment Project, Inc. CEO Amy Colesante said: “Launching the ‘Lives Forward’ Project is a groundbreaking moment for our community. We’re not just providing certifications; we’re igniting hope, breaking down barriers and empowering individuals with lived experiences to shape a positive future. Together with our partners, we are pioneering a program that not only transforms lives within the Westchester County Jail, but sends ripples of positive change throughout our community. Let's redefine recovery and resilience!”

NCADD/Westchester Executive Director Joan Bonsignore said: “We at NCADD/Westchester are so very excited to partner with the Westchester Department of Mental Health and with the Mental Health Empowerment Program in the innovative and first of its kind ‘Lives Forward’ Program. This pioneering program provides a second chance for incarcerated individuals to be trained as Certified Recovery Peer Advocates (CRPA) so that they can not only gain employment upon their release, but at the same time play a key role in helping people in the community find ways to stop using or reduce harm associated with addictive behaviors.”