Every human being – whether they reside behind bars or on the outside – has innate worth, a story to tell, experiences to learn from, and is an important and contributing member of the community. The experiential education model of Inside-Out is an embodied experience in which academic readings are contextualized and given meaning through direct, personal knowledge of the criminal justice system from the perspectives of both inside and outside students. In the sharing of perspectives, two separate groups become one through a dynamic in which participants have a chance to reassess stereotypes and myths while re-examining the meaning of crime and incarceration.
Another principle of Inside-Out is that there are numerous individual and societal benefits of a wide-scale, long-term reintroduction of higher education programs into prisons. Chief among these benefits is that post-secondary education for those who are incarcerated is a major contributor to helping those leaving prison to stay out of prison. Providing local educational resource materials such as college registration, funding, and personnel contact information to inside students is a first step to increasing knowledge of and access to academic programs upon release.
But beyond simply distributing information to students, Inside-Out provides a setting in which students explore the social, economic, and political factors of issues such as recidivism, access to jobs and housing, health and addiction, and prejudice, all of which can be barriers to incarcerated persons. By collaboratively designing projects based on course readings and dialogue, students engage in the challenge of practically thinking through change strategies and explore their own personal potential and role as change agents. One societal benefit of expanding the Inside-Out model is the awareness that is raised in inside and outside students of the possibilities and challenges of transforming the systems and structures that lead to incarceration.
Inside-Out looks to grow higher education in prisons in ways that: 1) are broad-based, 2) have few barriers to entry from the viewpoint of colleges and instructors, 3) are financially self-sustaining, 4) attract correctional administrators already convinced of the value of education who are seeking ways to provide it, and 5) create a growing constituency of those in the community who support prison education. The program has been advocating for college classes in county, federal, and state institutions across the country, and has succeeded in garnering approval for its classes from state-level departments of correction in Oregon, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
Through its National Instructor Training Institute, Inside-Out introduces professors to the many dimensions of conducting an Inside-Out class. At the same time, the instructors are encouraged to be activists for the issue of higher education in prison, galvanized to advocate for college programs inside correctional facilities. In fact, a number of Inside-Out instructors have successfully created credit-bearing opportunities for incarcerated men and women through these classes. Their strategies include partnerships with continuing education programs at colleges and universities; cross-listing courses with local community colleges; securing outside funding for credit; reducing tuition rates for inside students; and granting credit upon release from prison and matriculation at the college or university offering the Inside-Out course.
Additionally, the program is beginning to see a critical mass of interested instructors emerging at several schools around the country; nearly one-third of Inside-Out’s trainees are referrals from colleagues who have completed the program. This represents a significant step in moving toward potentially developing degree-bearing programs for inside students at some of these colleges and universities.
The pairing of colleges and universities with correctional facilities is the key to the program’s financial feasibility. In the absence of significant funding for prison education, the college or university essentially covers the entire cost of an Inside-Out course, with the possible exception of books for the incarcerated students. In this way, Inside-Out can leverage its work within one institution – education – in order to exact change within another – corrections.
THE INSIDE-OUT CENTER