School of Criminal Justice Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Abraham S. Fischler School of Education

First Advisor

Marcelo Castro

Second Advisor

Angela Yehl

Third Advisor

Tammy Kushner


Correctional practices in New York State largely support a punishment paradigm, a framework in which men and women are incarcerated to suffer punition, with little consideration given to understanding the causes of criminality or means to rehabilitate the offender. The growing awareness of correctional failures have necessitated efforts to re-evaluate the justice system, with no consensus regarding which rehabilitative methods work. Correctional philosophy and practice provides few substantive opportunities for transformative rehabilitation; therapeutic peer programming to address deficiencies in pro-normative socialization and provide peer support are virtually nonexistent.

For many formerly incarcerated men who build successful lives for themselves within supportive communities, a common thread winds through their institutional experience: peer mentoring by fellow incarcerated men through informal and peer-created programming. This study examined the role that social support by incarcerated peer mentor groups within New York State prisons played in resocializing fellow inmates towards normative behavior and character development. Through interviews with formerly incarcerated violent offenders, this study explored the interpersonal mechanisms that encouraged and nurtured rehabilitation. Focusing on the specific organizations to which they belonged, a more thorough understanding was provided of both how peer mentor groups work, and also why they work independently of other socializing influences, such as family. Through transcendental phenomenological analysis, this research revealed several themes within peer-mentorship experience, and examined the value of these programs for correctional programming.