How do you evaluate success of peacemaking?

Alcatraz, view from camp site.
Alcatraz, view from camp site.

How do you evaluate success of peacemaking?

This is part three of my interview with Doug Noll detailing his work with Prison of Peace and his work with female murderers serving in California prisons. 

Doug Noll and Laurel Kaufer have worked with such women teaching them conflict resolution skills and teaching them how to teach the same skills to other prisoners.  It is hard to evaluate success in such a venture because most attempts at rehabilitation of prisons use recidivism rates to measure success.  Here there are no recidivism rates to measure because these women most likely will never be released.  But that is not to say that Doug and Laurel and the prisoners they work with don’t have success.  The women are duplicating the work among other prisoners.  Thanks to California Prison Realignment the program is growing and replicating itself in other prisons.

How do you gauge success?

As we were designing the project, we consulted with sociologists at Berkeley and UC Irvine. It became clear that setting up research protocols to measure outcomes empirically and quantitatively would be impossible. There were simply too many variables. Thus, we have used qualitative evaluations from the participants themselves to determine the effectiveness of our teaching. In addition, because the participants must engage in actual peacemaking work and write up each conflict, we have a large set of qualitative data.

The inmates report to us that the violence in their prisons has been reduced. We have received unsolicited letters from prison officials confirming the reduction in violence. We have heard hundreds of stories of how our peacemakers and mediators have worked. From stopping incipient prison gang riots to dealing with the aftermath of rape, our mediators have stepped up.

As an unintended effect of the project, we have seen the personal transformation of many inmates. The power of becoming a peacemaker, not only allows them to live a life of service, but requires them to change in dramatic ways internally. We never expected to see the transformations that we have witnessed.

Examples of success – or failures?

Success or failure in a project like this is very subjective. As trainers and coaches, we do not get to witness the inmates working to resolve conflicts in their communities. We only get to see the write ups and hear the stories after the fact. As with any conflict, there are occasional failures. However, as we experience in the outside world, the successes are far more common.

I find it impossible to describe in words the successes I have heard about. For readers interested in hearing the women speak directly, go to the Prison of Peace website and watch the videos on the Press & Media page.

Alcatraz camp site
Alcatraz camp site

Ken Strongman, MediatorAbout the Author: Ken Strongman ( has years of experience and a growing national reputation as a mediator and arbitrator.  He has successfully resolved more than a thousand disputes in the fields of construction defects, real estate, intellectual property, and employment.  He is also a Mediator and Arbitrator for FINRA.

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