The Insight Prison Project (IPP) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was established in 1997 by the community organizer Jacques Verduin, who also founded Insight-Out. Arguing that the “over-incarceration” of nonwhites and the poor is a consequence of the “enormous” role that “race and class” play in the U.S. criminal-justice system, IPP strives to “transform the lives of those impacted by incarceration” through intervention programs based on a blend of talk therapy, unconditional positive regard, and “compassion.” The goal is to create “lasting behavioral change” that will enable prisoners to “break the cycle of incarceration … and become productive community members.”
IPP describes its core philosophy as “restorative justice,” which, in contrast to “our current retributive justice system [that] focuses on punishment,” emphasizes “healing and rehabilitation.” Lamenting that most prisons simply “warehous[e]” large numbers of inmates in a harsh, toxic environment that does nothing to help them heal the psychological and emotional wounds that allegedly caused them to become criminals in the first place, IPP explains that the restorative justice approach attempts to “mend” the relationships between victims and offenders “through dialogue, community support, involvement and inclusion.” It also stresses the importance of “treat[ing] prisoners with respect and … reintegrat[ing] them into the larger community.”
Founded on the premise that “violence against others is learned behavior that can be unlearned,” IPP’s restorative justice curriculum is composed of three core programs: “Violence Prevention,” “Emotional Literacy,” and “Victim/Offender Education Groups.” These initiatives are designed to help prisoners “understand the origins of their anger”; “develop skills to track and control strong impulses before acting on them and perpetuating acts of violence”; become “emotionally literate”; “gain an understanding of how they may have confused their authentic sense of self with a self-image of an authoritative male stereotype”; “address memories and feelings connected to traumatic and unresolved events in their lives”; and develop “a renewed sense of wholeness, authenticity, emotional well being and positive behavior.”
To complement the programs described above, IPP also conducts yoga classes designed to “introduce prisoners to a challenging yet … nurturing practice that rejuvenates the body while freeing the mind from the negativity and stress that are part of living in an incarcerated environment.”
All IPP programs are conducted jointly by crime victims, community volunteers, and prisoners. The beneficiaries are inmates and parolees in 12 prisons, 3 county jail facilities, and several re-entry programs—all in California. At San Quentin alone, IPP offers 20 regular core classes to approximately 300 prisoners annually.