tower through fence.jpg
tower through fence.jpg

The Evolution


The Evolution


Susan Russo accepting the 2010 Cloke-Millen Peacemaker of The Year Award on behalf of the first group of Peacemakers.

  • August: Co-founder Laurel Kaufer received a letter from Susan Russo, a woman serving a sentence of life without parole, requesting conflict resolution training for a group of women serving life and long-term sentences at Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) in Chowchilla, California.


  • March: Prison of Peace was given approval by Chief Deputy Warden, Velda Dobson Davis (ret.), to begin a pilot program with women serving life and long-term sentences at Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) in Chowchilla, California.
  • April: The first workshop began with women at VSPW. 
  • October: In recognition of their pioneering work, the first fifteen women trained as Peacemakers and Mediators at VSPW, were awarded the Southern California Mediation Association 2010 Cloke/Millen Peacemaker of the Year Award.
  • December:  Seventy inmates, most with life and long-term sentences, had been certified as Peacemakers, and thirty-two had been certified as Mediators. 


  • April:  The first Peacemaker workshops taught by lifers and long-termers at VSPW began, as a part of their journey in becoming certified Trainers.
  • September: Received a letter from Warden Walter Miller, expressing appreciation for the program and recognizing that “[s]ince the start of the Prison of Peace program the institution appears quieter and with less violence.” Most significantly, he went on to state that “[t]he inmates in the Prison of Peace program display leadership qualities that outweigh their past criminal behavior.” 
  • December: Over one hundred fifty inmates at VSPW had been trained as Peacemakers, over fifty as Mediators, and well over fifty percent of the general population of inmates had participated in Peace Circles. 


  • July:  Twelve women at VSPW had completed the rigorous process of becoming Trainers, during which, they trained nearly one hundred students of their own  to be Peacemakers, with many others acting as mentors and coaches, all of which made the project internally self-sustaining.
  • October:  As a result of a Supreme Court mandate regarding prison overcrowding, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced the re-purposing of Valley State Prison for Women into a men's institution. 
  • December:  All of the women at VSPW were transferred either directly across the street to the Central California Women's Facility (CCWF) or to the California Institute for Women (CIW) in Chino, California. Prison of Peace faced the challenge of restarting in two new prisons with new administrations. 


  • January:  Prison of Peace was asked by administrators to return to Valley State Prison to begin the program with their new male inmates. 
  • June:  Along with co-founder, Laurel Kaufer, two trainers transferred from VSPW taught a group of women serving time at CIW to become new Peacemakers. 
  • August: Eight inmate trainers who had been transferred from VSPW to CCWF, stepped up and trained a cohort of women in peacemaking on Tuesday evenings.  
  • October: Certified it’s first group of new Mediators serving time at CIW.
  • November:  A new trainer program began at CIW, led by Anna Humiston, one of the first group of women to become Prison of Peace Trainers at VSPW.
  • December: Certified its first group of men serving time at VSP as peacemakers.


Peacemakers, Mediators and Mentors, Valley State Prison, Oct. 2014

  • January: In cooperation with the Pepperdine School of Law, co-founder, Laurel Kaufer, began Prison of Peace's first Criminal Justice Practicum.  This program brought law and masters degree students to act as mentors in the first project for incarcerated juveniles at Camp David Gonzales in Malibu, CA. 
  • February: Prison of Peace began in the Los Angeles County Jail system at Century Regional Detention Facility (CRDF). 
  • May:  Women at CRDF became the first Peacemakers serving time in Los Angeles County jails, several of whom have since become certified Mediators and Mentors to new students as Peacemaker workshops continued in new cohorts.
  • May: Prison of Peace Certified the first group of male inmate mediators in the state of California at VSP. 
  • June: Prison of Peace commenced training a second cohort of men at VSP, certifying new Peacemakers and mediators, with the expectation that a cadre of trainers will emerge from these initial cohorts by early 2015.
  • August:  The Pepperdine School of Law Criminal Justice Practicum moved to CRDF so that future lawyers can experience mentorship through Prison of Peace in the women’s jail. 
  • August - November:  Prison of Peace hosted Master's Degree student, Maria Munoz Sanchez, from the University of Barcelona, as she observed and participated in all our programs for her Master's thesis on inmate facilitated dispute resolution.  
  • October: New Peacemaker and Mediator workshops began at CCWF, all in the hands of inmate trainers. Co-founders, Kaufer and Noll, will continue to support them with visits to follow their progress and coach them in their teaching. 
  • November: New inmate trainers at CIW completed teaching their first Peacemaker workshop to glowing reviews.
  • December: New Peacemakers were certified at CRDF and will continue on in 2015 with Mediator training and as Mentors to the next group of aspiring Peacemakers. 


  • January:  In a new program at CRDF (created by Captain Maria Gutierrez, once she learned about Prison of Peace), inmate Peacemakers were called on weekends to be of service in visiting with inmates held in mental health confinement.  This gave our Peacemakers purpose, the other inmates a friend, and custody officers a new way of interacting with inmates.  At the same time, some dedicated Peacemakers participated as Mentors to new students as a new cohort began.
  • February:  Dedicated Peacemakers at VSP began the intensive process of becoming the first Prison of Peace inmate trainers in a men's prison.  Inmate trainers at CIW began teaching a new cohort of Peacemakers.
  • June:  Inmate trainers at VSP completed teaching their first Peacemaker workshops with great success.
  • July:  Prison of Peace Certified a second group of inmate Mediators at CRDF.
  • August:  The first team of inmate Mediators in California taught solely by other inmates were certified at CCWF.
  • October:  A new Prison of Peace program, the Circle Keeper Workshop, taught by new inmate trainers, began at CRDF for shorter term inmates in Los Angeles County Jail.
  • October - November:  Prison of Peace hosted Dimitra Gavriil, an attorney and mediator from Athens, Greece as she observed and participated in all our programs as part of a fellowship through the JAMS Foundation, in order for her to bring Prison of Peace to Greece.  
  • December:  
    • Inmate trainers at CCWF took on new responsibility, as the first Prison of Peace trainers to begin the intensive process of teaching new trainers. 
    • Inmate trainers at VSP brought the year to a close with the largest group of new Peacemakers to date. 
    • Following the successful completion of two more Peacemaker cohorts, another group of Mediators was certified at CIW.
    • Through a collaboration with Prison of Peace, two trainers recently paroled (alumni) from CIW were hired by R.I.S.E. to Empower, a program for girls at risk, to provide mentoring to a group of pregnant teens.


  • A grant from the California Wellness Foundation made it possible for Prison of Peace to hire paroled alumni for part-time project development.
  • February: 
    • A new inmate arrived at CCWF, after completing Prison of Peace Mediation training in County Jail (CRDF), and immediately began resolving conflict among newly arrived inmates.
    • Prison of Peace alumni were hired to teach Listening Skills to parents of inner-city children. 
  • March:  Following a third Peacemaker workshop cohort at VSP, Prison of Peace certified the first group of inmate Trainers in a men's institution.
  • April:  Dimitra returned from Greece for a month of further observation of Prison of Peace programs, while she continued the daunting task of translating the entire Prison of Peace curriculum into Greek.
  • May:  Following completion of two Circle Keeper workshops and a Peacemaker workshop, CRDF had a new group of Peacemakers serving it's mentally ill population.
  • June: 
    • Upon transfer from VSP to Chuckawalla Valley State Prison (CVSP), two Prison of Peace Mentors took it upon themselves to begin teaching the Prison of Peace Peacemaker workshop to two other inmates in a place where Prison of Peace had no prior presence.
    • With support from the AAA/ICDR Foundation, the largest single group of new Prison of Peace Mediators was certified at VSP.
  • August:
    • Led by Marie Gillespie, PhD candidate, in Psychology at the University of Southern California, the Prison of Peace program at CRDF became the subject of a formal study. 
    • The first Prison of Peace Mediation Trainer program began at VSP with continued support from the AAA/ICDR Foundation.
    • The first Peacemaker certificates were issued to inmates at CVSP, proving that Prison of Peace can seed a program in one prison and see it grow in another, because of the passion it instills in those inmates who take it seriously and the skills they have to share with others.
  • September:
    • A new Circle Keeper Trainer program began at CIW for Prison of Peace graduates, including some newly arrived from CRDF. 
    • Circle Keeper workshops kicked off at CCWF taught by inmate Trainers, with rising Trainers serving as Mentors.
  • December: 
    • The first cohort of new Mediators taught solely by inmate Trainers was completed at VSP. 
    • New Circle Keepers were certified at CCWF. 
    • Another new group of Peacemakers were certified at CRDF. 
    • CIW Trainers completed preparation to begin Circle Keeper Workshops in January 2017.


  • January:  In addition to supporting existing programs, Prison of Peace is expanding again!!!  With grants provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Prison of Peace programs will begin at six new California Prisons in 2017:  Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, Ironwood State Prison, Wasco State Prison, Corcoran State Prison, Pleasant Valley State Prison, and California Men's Colony.


Measuring Effectiveness

Measuring Effectiveness

Peace is what it takes to make progress possible.

Participants fill out evaluations after each workshop. These evaluations provide a qualitative and subjective perspective from the participants with regard to their growth. 

What has happened?

Participants in this program have experienced dramatic personal transformations. Prison of Peace has allowed them to discover or re-discover their own humanity, become aware of their own emotions, and begin to understand and reflect back the emotions of others. In learning peacemaking and mediation skills, they are taught how people evade personal accountability and how to morally re-engage those who have become morally disengaged. As a byproduct, many naturally become morally re-engaged themselves.

In addition, there has been a qualitative shift in personal interactions in the inmate population. Personal arguments have reportedly reduced in quantity and intensity. PoP Peacemakers and Mediators have been able to de-escalate and resolve conflicts among fellow inmates and between inmates and staff.  Many inmates have provided written reports documenting the completion of Mediations, as well as numerous conflicts averted.



I am so proud of all of the women who have taken this courageous step. I am truly in awe and share about them at every possible moment! Thank you both for being so committed to making a difference in the lives of these women.

-Sara Malone Chief, Office of the Ombudsman,  California Department  of Corrections and Rehabilitation

“Prison of Peace,” which provides women serving life sentences the skills to become Peacemakers and Mediators in the prison environment, is a truly unique and commendable effort towards the empowerment of these women in living more peaceful and fulfilling lives. “Prison of Peace,” in transforming inmates into trainers themselves, provides a low-cost sustainable rehabilitative program that is necessary in all California prisons. I look forward to seeing this program continue to grow and impact the lives of incarcerated women not only at VSPW, but throughout California.

- Senator Carol Liu, Chair, California Senate Select Committee on Women and Children in the Criminal Justice System 

All of the effort put forth by you and your team has made VSPW a leader in inmate mediation and problem solving. As you are aware, prison populations are somewhat unpredictable and volatile. Since the start of the Prison of Peace program the institution appears quieter and with less violence. I have seen the inmates enrolled in the Prison of Peace program step up and offer their assistance in mediating a difficult situation. The inmates in the Prison of Peace program display leadership qualities that outweigh their past criminal behavior.

- Walter Miller, Warden, Valley State Prison for Women, Chowchilla, CA

I am so elated that there is a program like this in the prison system I have witnessed first hand, the change in my daughter who is an inmate. This type of program should be available to the outside of prison for all of us who could use this information.

- Anonymous Parent, June 10, 2013

This is a huge step toward one of CDCR’s main goals: rehabilitation. The dedication, hard work and transparency that these ladies have shown are a testament to their commitment to change. I am very proud of their desire to accept responsibility and place themselves in a position to give back.            

-Velda Dobson-Davis, Chief Deputy Warden, Ret., Valley State Prison for Women 

Laurel Kaufer and Doug Noll taught these ladies survival skills through teaching them simple communication skills – how to listen, really listen, reframe and to communicate. By learning how to listen – and I mean truly listen to what another is saying – and then acknowledging what the speaker said by repeating it back, they are showing the speaker that she is being heard. As a consequence of learning and using this simple skill, these ladies are slowly reducing the conflict and violence within the prison. Rather than using pepper spray (which costs the state $1,000 in time and paperwork) to break up a potentially violent situation, the prison guards will call in these ladies to mediate it. . . and, at times, it works. They are slowly bringing “peace” to the prison; less conflict and violence and more listening and reframing."

-Phyllis Pollack, 2010 President, Southern California Mediation Association, in a blog post, PGP Mediation Blog