personal development

People Empowering People

A UConn Program Partnering with Correctional Institutions

Trish and Edna standing in front of the prison they volunteer at
Trish Spofford and Edna Johnson at the York Correctional Institute, one of the UConn PEP locations.

UConn Extension has partnered with the Department of Corrections to offer the UConn People Empowering People Program at Correctional Institutions (UConn PEPCI) for over twenty years. UConn PEPCI is a personal and family leadership program modeled after the community UConn People Empowering People (UConn PEP) program and focuses on keeping people from returning to prison.

UConn PEPCI is currently offered in six correctional institutions. Volunteers who teach the UConn PEPCI program are exemplary. In the past year four UConn PEPCI volunteers received Department of Corrections awards for their outstanding contributions. Trish Spofford, coordinator for the UConn PEP CI program is recruiting new volunteers to expand the program to other facilities and offer additional programming for UConn PEP CI graduates.

The program encourages inmates to be self-reflective and draw on their unique strengths, life experiences, and capacities. Our volunteers create conditions that help offenders develop the willingness and ability to take responsibility for their lives and become empowered.

The UConn PEPCI program creates a sense of community when teaching the curriculum so that inmates can support and encourage one another. By enhancing inmates’ self-worth we hope that they become more self-sufficient and independent. Inmates can reflect on their lives and make better decisions in the future after participating in the program; and they can explore different options and develop more positive ways of thinking and behaving.

Lesson topics include: values, community and self esteem, learning to feel good about myself, understanding my personality, communicating so people understand me, listening and relating well to others, problem solving and  managing conflicts, coping strategies, choosing and enjoying healthy connections, family relations, parenting from prison, goal setting and skills for returning home. Every session begins with the UConn PEP Pledge

The feedback from inmates about the UConn PEPCI program is consistently positive and shows how grateful inmates are for what they learn. Comments always include a thank you to the volunteers and fellow inmates for their time and for creating a safe environment where they can share. One inmate summarized what many said in their comments, “Choices and decisions affect my tomorrow so I must be patient and stay in control. I must build within me the power to make the right decisions, set goals and achieve them for my own mental health and self-empowerment. I have to believe that I matter, and I have to be better than the hand I was dealt.”

Another inmate said, “This program gives me a starting point to build empowerment within myself from the bottom up. I have to believe in myself or no one else will.”

The Department of Corrections supports UConn PEPCI and other programs because programming and support for rehabilitation lowers recidivism rates. Connecticut dropped its inmate population in recent years, but the United States continues to have the largest known incarcerated population in the world at about 1.5 million people according to 2017 data. At least five million children— or seven percent of American youth—have had an incarcerated parent, with African American, low-income, and rural minors disproportionately affected. Our volunteers continue expanding UConn PEPCI and helping inmates develop skills to re-integrate into their families and communities.

Article by Cathleen Love