Welcome to Prison of Peace

Prison of Peace is a pro bono project created by professional mediators Laurel Kaufer, Esq. and Douglas E. Noll, Esq. at the request of life and long term inmates at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, CA.


  • Prisoners as Peacemakers?

    How is it that men and women, with dark pasts, many of them serving time for murder and manslaughter, could possibly be peacemakers?

  • It Started With a Letter...

    The story is one of personal commitment to themselves and the community in which most are destined to live out their lives. “This is an environment filled with conflict and violence. There is a dire need and want for change,” said Susan Russo, serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, CA, and one of our first fifteen peacemakers. “Mediation interests all of us because we are lifers and long-termers hoping to make a difference in teaching our peers that there is a better way.” Beginning her quest in 2007, Ms. Russo wrote over 50 handwritten letters from prison to mediators all over California. Her letters went unanswered until August of 2009 when one of her letters made it to Laurel Kaufer, Esq., a well-known Southern California mediator and peacemaker and founder of the post-Katrina Mississippi Mediation Project. “As soon as I read the letter, I was hooked, but also knew that I couldn’t do it alone. Still standing at the mailbox, I called my friend and colleague, Doug Noll, the only person I would consider working with on a project like this,” said Ms. Kaufer. “Doug is a superb trainer, mediator, and restorative justice expert. I read the letter to him. He was silent for about a moment before he said, ‘I’m in. What’s our next step?’”

  • The Goals of Prison of Peace

    • To teach personal emotional intelligence skills to inmates
    • To teach essential personal problem-solving skills to inmates
    • To introduce and teach the restorative process of peace circles
    • To introduce and teach the principles of moral engagement
    • To teach basic mediation skills as third party neutrals
    • To embed peacemaking, defined as collaborative, respectful problem-solving processes to resolve interpersonal and group conflicts, within the prison.
    • To create capacity to continue the expansion of training and knowledge within the prison by training inmates to be instructors and trainers.
    • To create a sustainable program of peace-building within the prison
    • To demonstrate the power of non-coercive, non-violent methods of conflict resolution to correctional officers and prison administrators
    • To demonstrate the power of human redemption, transformation, and growth in all humans, regardless of crimes committed or circumstances of life

By the end of 2012, Prison of Peace had certified over 34 inmates as mediators and had trained and certified 12 inmate trainers.  In the process of becoming trainers, these women had trained nearly 100 women to be Peacemakers." At that same time, as a result of a Supreme Court mandate regarding prison overcrowding, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation decided to re-purpose Valley State Prison for Women into a men's prison. All of the women at VSPW were transferred either across the street to the Central California Women's Facility or to the California Institute for Women in Chino, California. The transfers were completed by December 31, 2012.

Prison of Peace now faced the challenge of restarting in two new prisons with new administrations. The women of Prison of Peace rose to the challenge.

Today, Prison of Peace is growing rapidly at the California Institute for Women. Two POP trainers were transferred there from VSPW, along with about 30 other POP certified women. In June 2013, along with Kaufer, those two trainers taught 21 women to become new Peacemakers, 16 of whom become certified Mediators in October 2013. For those who were interested, trainer training began at the end of 2013, with their participation as mentors to a new cohort of 15 more women.  They will soon begin teaching their own students.

At the Central California Women's Facility, 8 trainers have stepped up and have trained a cohort of 40 women in peacemaking on Tuesday evenings.  Our trainers have committed to redesigning the mediation curriculum. We support them with monthly visits to follow their progress and coach them in their teaching. They are amazing and we watch them in awe!

In 2012, we were asked by administrators to return to Valley State Prison, the new men's prison converted during realignment, to begin Prison of Peace. We accepted the invitation and trained 22 peacemakers and 14 mediators between October 2013 and May 2014. We commenced training our second cohort in June 2014 and expect a cadre of trainers to emerge from these initial cohorts by early 2015.,

In February 2014, Prison of Peace began in the Los Angeles County Jail system and in June 2014, seven women at Century Regional Detention Facility became the first POP Peacemakers in Los Angeles. Their mediation training will begin shortly.

Finally, in January 2014, in cooperation with the Straus Institute at the Pepperdine School of Law, we began our first Criminal Justice Practicum.  Through this program, we brought law and masters degree students to act as mentors as she ran the first Prison of Peace project for incarcerated juveniles at Camp David Gonzales in Malibu, CA.  In August 2014, this practicum will move to CRDF so that Pepperdine students can experience mentorship through Prison of Peace as it moves forward through two more cohorts in the women’s jail.

All of this work is pro bono.