INDIANAPOLIS -- Public health researchers at IUPUI are training some Indiana prisoners to become health resources and advocates for their peers as part of a worldwide program to improve health among underserved populations.
The Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI's ECHO Center is the first site to replicate Project ECHO's prison peer education program, launched in 2009 in New Mexico. Project ECHO, or Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, is an innovative videoconferencing approach to sharing medical knowledge and training health care providers.
IUPUI's Indiana Peer Education Program ECHO team, also known as INPEP, is training people who are incarcerated to become peer health educators. Graduates of the program can then pass on knowledge to their peers about common health conditions affecting prison populations, including infectious diseases such as hepatitis C, staph/MRSA skin infections and tuberculosis; mental health issues such as suicide risk, depression and anxiety; HIV and other sexually transmitted infections; diabetes; and addiction.
These peer educators communicate strategies to reduce risky behaviors and serve as key resources for health information within the prisons, in addition to developing skills in self-efficacy, responsibility and leadership that can carry over into their lives after incarceration.
Andrea Janota, program coordinator at the ECHO Center, said the Indiana Peer Education Program's model is that "prison health is public health."
"Over 95 percent of people who are incarcerated will return to their home communities," Janota said. "The Indiana Peer Education Program ECHO is a train-the-trainer model that provides an extraordinary opportunity to improve not only the health of people who are incarcerated, but also the health of their families and communities."
Twenty men from the Correctional Industrial Facility in Pendleton and the Plainfield Correctional Facility completed the 40-hour peer education training program in June and have begun hosting weekly health education workshops with their peers.
Janota said the peer health educators are talented and energetic facilitators who are able to use their lived experiences to reach their peers in ways that those who have never been incarcerated cannot. In addition to supporting health and safety in prisons, the program provides trainees with much more than health education.
"It provides the chance to be part of something, to be part of a community," she said. "While the program prepares peer educators with a strong understanding of health topics and preventative measures, it also helps them develop a professional skill set that is applicable anywhere in the workforce."
The Indiana Peer Education Program is a collaboration between the ECHO Center at IUPUI, Step-Up Inc., the Indiana Department of Correction and the Viral Hepatitis Program at the Indiana State Department of Health.
This project reflects Indiana University's extensive expertise and research regarding addictions. To build on this area of strength, IU President Michael A. McRobbie, along with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and IU Health President and CEO Dennis Murphy, announced the Responding to the Addictions Crisis Grand Challenge initiative in October 2017.