Peer Education Program Turns Inmates into Advocates
What's the fastest way to change the culture on a prison yard? In California, the answer is to empower prisoners to lead discussions with fellow inmates about something very few people want to talk about: sexual abuse behind bars.
Last year, JDI worked with California corrections officials to launch the first-ever inmate peer education program addressing prisoner rape.
A small group of inmates, selected and trained by JDI, have since provided workshops to thousands of other prisoners at California Correctional Institution, a large men's facility. Staff and inmates alike report that the program has resulted in a sharp decrease in sexual harassment, as well as a notable positive shift in staff attitudes toward reports of sexual abuse.
Last month, we asked David and C.J., two of the peer educators who have been part of this ground-breaking program, to talk about what the experience has been like for them.
JDI: What changes have you seen in the yard since the inmate peer education program began?
C.J.: People used to joke about sexual abuse. They don't do that anymore.
DAVID: The yard has changed a lot. Some inmates used to see sexual abuse as something that was just uncomfortable, but people started loosening up and realizing this is something we need to talk about. Now people are eager to come to the classes.
JDI: What makes you want to be a part of this program?
CJ: Me personally, I don't like bullies. I want to help any way I can and I like a challenge. This is a challenge. If I can make a difference in one life, it's worth it. I like to give people information that changes their minds. And doing this work has opened my eyes to the myths about sexual abuse.
DAVID: I've never been a victim in that way, but I can see that rape survivors are hurting and deserve help. Providing information that can actually prevent sexual abuse makes me feel good at the end of the day.
The national standards addressing prisoner rape -- which the U.S. Attorney General has still not adopted -- will require that corrections institutions nationwide educate inmates about sexual violence behind bars, their right to be free from such abuse, and how to get help in the aftermath of an assault.
We asked David and C.J. to tell us how having standards in place would affect their work.
CJ: First off, it would back up what we say and make sure staff do what they say they are going to do. There are a lot of things in the national standards that can really help people, but because they aren't signed, it's still too tenuous, a dream.
DAVID: I think that it's extremely important for the standards to be signed. We're building a foundation here, but it is still only groundwork. Without the standards, the program can't expand to help other institutions.
It is an honor for JDI to work with people like C.J. and David -- as well as the committed corrections officials who recognize that staff, inmates, and advocates can work together to change the culture of prisons.
Please join JDI, C.J., and David in demanding that the Attorney General adopt strong standards now, without further delay.