Humane Prison Hospice Project

We are transforming the way incarcerated individuals die through education, advocacy, and training to support fellow peers as caregivers and grief companions.

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Our Work

Humane Prison Hospice Project is developing a humanitarian, cost-effective, and transformative solution to ensure that those aging and dying in prison receive compassionate care.

 

The Humane team believes that the right to receive compassionate end-of-life care is a basic human right — one that should be extended to everyone, including the most wounded and troubled in our society.

At Humane, we strive for a world where all incarcerated people are treated with dignity and respect as they near their deaths. Our model benefits not only the dying, but their fellow incarcerated peers who provide the care and the prison correctional staff as well as they witness how transformative it can be for incarcerated individuals to care for their dying friends behind bars.

Since 2017, we have been in San Quentin where, despite the fact that there is no prison hospice program there, we have been training groups of incarcerated men known as Brothers’ Keepers to provide compassionate end-of-life care and grief support. Our instruction also included training the Brothers’ Keepers in other modes of crisis intervention to prepare them to support their incarcerated peers who are suffering from depression, suicidal ideation, or the effects of trauma and violence often experienced behind bars.

In 2022, Humane was tasked with creating a new curriculum. Our new endeavor focuses on how to train incarcerated people to provide emotional support and hands-on care for their aging and dying peers in facilities where broader palliative care services already exist or are in development. Graduates of the forthcoming program will be known as palliative care workers/volunteers, or PCW/Vs.

We will pilot our new program for the current hospice volunteers at California Medical Facility (the site of the only prison hospice in the CDCR system) then roll it out to at least two other California prisons — Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and San Quentin — by the end of 2023. The plan is to evaluate, refine, and replicate the model, implementing it systemwide in California prisons, and sharing it with other states.

Wherever we are, the outcome of our work is a therapeutic community within prison walls. We are proud to promote a cultural shift toward compassion, care, empathy, and support that sets the foundation for additional restorative justice practices, inside and outside prisons.

“Before my cellmate of five years passed, he begged me to take care of him. So I did. I fed him. I cleaned him up. When he had to go to the hospital, he fought them. He wanted to come back. Him dying made me want to change. He was my friend. The person who took care of him, that was a good part of me.”

— Lenny, a member of Brothers’ Keepers, trained in end-of-life care by Humane Prison Hospice Project

Humane Prison Hospice Project is a program of Commonweal.