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 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, one of the fifteen initial peacemakers, serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, CA. “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 nano-second 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 15 inmate trainers. The inmate trainers had trained nearly 200 women to the level of Peacemaker." As a result of the California budgetary crisis, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was directed to re-purpose Valley State Prison for Women into a men's prison. All of the women at VSPW were transferred across the street to the Central California Women's Facility or transferred 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. Despite many obstacles and resistance from inmates and administrators, the women of Prison of Peace rose to the challenge.

Today, Prison of Peace is growing rapidly at the California Institute for Women. Three trainers have been transferred there. They, along with Kaufer and Noll, are training 15 women to become new Peacemakers, Mediators, and hopefully trainers, within the prison. These women completed the basic Peacemaker training in August 2013 and will be starting mediation training in September 2013. Trainer training will begin at the end of 2013 and continue through 2014. There is a large waiting list of women wishing to be trained in the Prison of Peace project at the California Institute for Women.

At the Central California Facility for Women, space limitations have made time and space extremely difficult. However, 8 trainers have stepped up and are training a cohort of 40 women on Tuesday evenings. Because of the time and space constraints imposed by the administration, we are uncertain about mediation training. However, our trainers have committed to redesigning the mediation curriculum to fit into the 90 minute per time block allotted by the administration. All we can do is watch them in awe! We support them with monthly visits to follow their progress and coach them in their teaching. They are amazing.

We have been invited by the administration at Valley State Prison, the new men's prison converted during realignment, to begin Prison of Peace. We have accepted the invitation and will begin training in our first men's prison in October 2013. Interest is strong, with over 60 men showing up for the first orientation. We have wanted to keep the first class small, but the enthusiasm and excitement generated by the orientation is causing us to rethink the cohort size.

We have been invited to develop a Prison of Peace project in the Los Angeles County Jail system. We are in discussions with representatives of the Sheriff's Office about the scope of the program and who will be served.

Finally, we are starting Prison of Peace in our first juvenile facility. In cooperation with the Straus Institute at the Pepperdine School of Law, we hope to use law and masters degree students to be mentors in the project. This project will commence in the spring of 2014.

All of this work is pro bono.