Prisons: Punishment or healing?

Jacques Verduin, founder of the Insight Prison Project (IPP) thinks prisons should be for healing. IPP is non-profit community organization working in collaboration with San Quentin State Prison. Since 1997, Verduin and his fellow staff menbers and volunteers at IPP have worked to reduce recidivism, prevent re-victimization and serve public safety by conducting effective rehabilitation programs inside San Quentin. According to Verduin, rehabilitation should be the core operating principle within prison systems. The IPP Insight Approach involves four core programs designed to generate a lasting change of attitude and behavior in the inmates who participate.

The Insight Approach: The Four Core Programs


The core curriculum or cornerstone programs that drive IPP’s socialization process are: Restorative Justice (Victim/Offender Education Groups), Violence Prevention, IPP Group Process, and Mind/Body Integration.

The following summary is from IPP’s website:

The Insight Approach is designed to treat the whole person and creates a “change of heart.” It transforms the entrenched negative habit patterns that trip up a prisoner -regardless of the academic or vocation skills they may gain in their rehabilitation process. Our methodology integrates instruction, process and practice and covers these four essential ingredients: the emotional work, the rational restructuring, the victim-impact work and the embodied integration of those new behaviors. What is unique about the Insight Approach is that it is informed by years of spending time inside the trenches of a state prison (San Quentin State Prison).  It is informed by working up close and road testing it with scores of incarcerated men— all types of offenders, races, gang affiliations and ages. We have developed population specific interventions, new language and application that work effectively with a multi-ethnic, incarcerated population. The organizing principle is based on learning to establish a behavioral shift away from having a blind reaction to the ability to respond skillfully, i.e. making life-enhancing choices. We see three hundred prisoners a week and most all our programs have a waiting list. We estimate that over time we have worked intensively with between two and three thousand men.  The IPP Victim-Offender Education Program we teach is currently in six other State prisons in California.

IPP is becoming a training Institute in order to spread what we have developed so that it may serve in other places. Training is integral to all the programs. IPP conducts professional facilitation trainings along with providing curriculum for each of these core programs and on the Insight Approach as a package of the four core programs.

Victim/Offender Education Group (VOEG)

Using the principles of Restorative Justice, IPP offers this voluntary, intensive 24 week training for San Quentin inmates who wish to better understand themselves and how their life experiences and decisions led them to prison, and most importantly how their crimes have impacted their victim(s), their families and their community.

IPP Violence Prevention Program

This program is an in-depth journey into understanding violence. That journey includes studying the gender and cultural conditioning (including race and gang affiliations) that create stereotypical models of behavior, which often validate the use of violence.

The IPP Group Process Program

This program provides an in-depth group process focused on establishing positive habits where prisoners anchor their insights into durable behavior changes.

Hatha Yoga

Cultivating the “Sound Body, Sound Mind” concept is a principle of successful rehabilitation. The primary aim of Hatha Yoga is to free oneself from confusion and distress, thereby allowing the mind and body to be at peace. The class draws on the traditions of Hatha Yoga by employing postures and conscious breathing to achieve a sense of self-awareness, calmness and clarity. Other forms of exercise the prisoners engage in often strain muscles and bones.

Mindful Meditation

In this program we use meditation as a tool. The class is designed to honor and deepen one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs through the practice of mindful meditation. The class includes a simple yet powerful system of concentration exercises, guided meditations, inspiring stories, and sitting in silence to connect to the truth of our experience. It is this experience of truth that sets us free. This often produces a deep sense of peace.

Doing ‘The Work’

A group process class implementing Byron Katie’s method: ‘The Work’. The class is based on the premise that real freedom is not just “the other side of the gate”—but rather, a state of mind. The class is about “doing your work;” i.e. facing your issues with courage and honesty and finding a new way to live.

Brothers’ Keepers

Brothers’ Keepers is for and by the prisoners themselves.  This pioneering peer education program trains the prisoners into becoming crisis intervention counselors and certified rape trauma counselors.  This peer counselor, training program is the result of an initiative by prisoners on San Quentin’s North Block in response to the suicide of a well-known and respected fellow inmate.

Staying Out

Preparing for life on the other side of the gate

This class is a comprehensive, 12-week intensive training program that encompasses the many issues facing a parolee. Prisoners learn to become active in creating their own destiny, rather than living lives dictated by circumstances. Each week a different topic is presented, where learning is integrated through discussion and process. Participation in the program encourages honesty, and the ability to express feelings, respect differences, and practice new habits.