College Prison Courses
Inside-Out courses are designed to bring college students and incarcerated men and women together to study as peers.
The class is designed and framed to create a space for honest dialogue and real exchange between the “inside” and “outside” students. It is the authenticity of this exchange that makes Inside-Out unique. The result is a constructive dialogue that inspires participants to generate new ideas and fresh solutions to problems related to crime and the administration of justice. By encountering one another in a safe and respectful context, all participants are challenged to re-evaluate cultural stereotypes, resist generalizations, and fully meet one another as fellow members of the same society. Some of the goals of the program are to place a human face on justice issues and to change the tone and attitude of public opinion toward incarcerated individuals, one person at a time.
Currently, more than 300 Inside-Out courses have been offered through schools and correctional institutions around the country. Though the courses are offered in varied disciplines and on many subjects, courses use what we call “the prism of prison” to examine the material.
One of the advantages of Inside-Out courses is that, because of the way they are designed, cost need not be a barrier to implementing the program. From the point of view of the schools, Inside-Out courses are just classes that are offered to existing students, but are taught off campus. Thus, any additional cost is negligible. From the point of view of correctional institutions, Inside-Out is not a program that they have to pay for – rather, it is similar to a volunteer program in which people from the community facilitate an activity for free.
The flagship Inside-Out Course – the one that started it all – is “The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program: Exploring Issues of Crime and Justice Behind the Walls,” first offered at Temple University in 1997. The 15-week class is comprised of 15 to 18 undergraduate students, along with an equal number of incarcerated men or women. The class is held inside prison once a week for the semester.
Together, the class reads relevant articles and texts and explores some of the most fundamental issues of crime and justice: what prisons are for; why people commit crime; a critical analysis of the criminal justice system; punishment versus rehabilitation; the myths and realities of prison life; issues of victims and victimization; and other issues. Later in the course, the class is divided into mixed groups that design and complete a final project that relates to the issues that have been discussed throughout the semester.
As mentioned above, a widening array of courses is being offered across the country each semester as instructors from disciplines such as theater, humanities, mathematics, nursing, and art become trained in the Inside-Out model. Instructors are continually expanding the content through which issues of crime and justice are explored, creating new possibilities for interdisciplinary education within prisons and jails. Expanding the disciplines offered through Inside-Out courses also provides college and university students who might not ever otherwise step into a correctional facility the chance to apply learning within their majors in new ways.
THE INSIDE-OUT CENTER