Inmate Peer Educators Help Fight Sexual Abuse at California Prison

As you know by now, JDI is deeply involved in the effort to secure national standards addressing prisoner rape -- standards that are under review by Attorney General Eric Holder. But this is only one part of what we do. While advocating for strong federal standards, we are also working closely with countless inmates and prison officials who are already doing everything they can to make their facilities safer.

The California Correctional Institution (CCI) is one example. A large, troubled, and overcrowded prison, CCI has made the unusual decision to allow outsiders -- like JDI and local rape crisis counselors -- into the facility to collaborate directly with staff and inmates. Earlier this week, JDI was at CCI working with a group of prisoners. The goal: to prevent sexual abuse by training inmates as peer educators -- carefully chosen prisoners who are able and willing to talk to fellow inmates about the problem of sexual abuse and what to do in case of an assault.

"Many inmates are terrified of talking to staff about sexual violence. As a result, survivors are forced to suffer alone, and officials who are committed to protecting the safety of inmates don't know when someone is being abused," explains Linda McFarlane, JDI's Deputy Executive Director. "Through the peer education project, we are trying to break the silence -- a silence that allows sexual abuse to flourish."

The pilot program is taking place on one of CCI's "special needs yards," which houses more than 1,200 inmates, all of whom officials feel would be in danger in the general prison population. They include transgender women, openly gay men, previously victimized inmates, ex-gang members, inmates with disabilities, and state witnesses.

"Literally within moments of the peer educators' official selection, other inmates began asking them for information and sharing accounts of abusive situations," says Ms. McFarlane. "It was an amazing confirmation of the need for this kind of program; every prison in the country should have one."

At a time when prison systems are facing budget cuts, training inmates as sexual abuse peer educators is an effective, no-cost way of preventing and addressing sexual abuse.

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