In 1995, Lori Pompa, a professor in the Criminal Justice Department at Temple University, took a group of 15 undergraduate students to the State Correctional Institution at Dallas, PA for a tour of the facility. As part of the tour, Lori and her students met with a panel of men who were incarcerated there, most of whom were serving life sentences. During the panel discussion, they touched on a variety of issues – social, economic, political, racial, psychological, philosophical – as they related to crime and justice. After this engaging, hour-long conversation, it was time to leave, but no one wanted to.

As Lori and her students were about to depart, a panelist named Paul approached Lori, suggesting that the conversation could be expanded over the course of a semester. It could, essentially, be a semester-long course where incarcerated and non-incarcerated students would read the same assignments, write papers, and engage in discussion together each week. Lori told Paul that it was a great idea and promised him she would consider it. However, she knew that the logistics of bringing students on a weekly basis to a facility 120 miles away from Philadelphia were far too challenging.

Yet, in the days after her visit to Dallas, Lori couldn’t stop thinking about Paul’s suggestion. She began to strategize ways to make this program work at a correctional facility closer to her university. Lori approached the Philadelphia Prison System and, in 1997, began teaching a course entitled “The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program: Exploring Issues of Crime and Justice behind the Walls.” Paul’s idea was put into practice and The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program was born.

In 2000, other Temple faculty joined Lori in teaching Inside-Out courses and two years later, The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program expanded to Graterford Prison (now SCI Phoenix), a state correctional facility just outside of Philadelphia. By coincidence, Paul was transferred to Graterford and was able to take the first Inside-Out course offered there, which Lori taught. When that course ended, the inside and outside students decided to continue meeting, conversing, and working to raise public awareness about issues of crime, justice, prisons, and mass incarceration. Thus, the Graterford Think Tank was initiated, which began holding public workshops, extending the Inside-Out dialogic learning experience to an audience beyond college students.

Having been awarded a  Soros Justice Senior Fellowship, Lori was able to begin working with inside and outside alumni to develop replication criteria and materials for expanding the program around the country. In 2004, the Graterford Think Tank (now Phoenix Think Tank) hosted the inaugural instructor training, launching the first of now 67 Inside-Out Training Institutes, which have equipped over 1,100 college professors from around the world to teach Inside-Out courses.

An idea conceived in a prison classroom over twenty years ago has now grown into an international movement comprised of more than 150 correctional and higher education partnerships, hundreds of trained instructors, over thirty think tanks, and more than 35,000 students worldwide who have benefited from these life-changing courses.


Inside-Out idea was born on a visit to the state prison in Dallas, PA.

First Inside-Out class was conducted in the Philadelphia Prison System.

2000 – 2001
Two other Temple professors began Inside-Out classes.

Inside-Out expanded to the state prison in Graterford, PA . The Graterford Think Tank (now Phoenix Think Tank) began and the group still meets weekly.

2002 – 2003
Soros Justice Senior Fellowship granted to replicate the program in other locations; inside and outside students collaborated in developing replication criteria and materials.

First Inside-Out Instructor Training Institute held in July with 20 participants. Graterford Think Tank members co-facilitated parts of training.

The first advisory boards, the National Steering Committee and National Research Committee, were established and have been meeting regularly ever since.

Inside-Out Regional Centers began to be developed throughout the country and the first Inside-Out regional conference was held in Indiana.

Mini-documentary on Inside-Out was developed by University of Oregon.

Day-long conference at Graterford Prison (now SCI Phoenix) conducted during the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology.

Visit to the Graterford Think Tank by several high-ranking officials of the French Ministry of Justice who met to discuss the Inside-Out program.

Alumni groups in Oregon and Philadelphia began to meet and develop programming.

Inside-Out expanded to Canada.

Inside-Out expanded to the U.K.

Inside-Out received a Ford Foundation grant to scale up the program in MI, OR, PA, CA, and CO.

Inside-Out expanded to Australia and Mexico.

Inside-Out celebrated its twentieth anniversary with a three-day conference and commemoration event in Philadelphia.

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Paul and Lori graphic Inside-Out class
Over 38,000 students have taken Inside-Out courses since the program began in 1997.
Oregon Inside-Out class
Oregon was among the earliest states where the Inside-Out program grew and developed.

“This whole experience has had an enormous effect on me. The issues that were addressed in class seeped into every inch of my being. The issues have consistently reinforced my desire and need to work for social justice.”
(Outside Participant)

Inside-Out class
Professor Kate King and her Inside-Out class in a Tennessee prison in 2011.
Australia Inside-Out class
Australia hosted its first Inside-Out course in 2015.
Inside-Out in Detroit
A closing ceremony for a 2017 Inside-Out class in Michigan.
“It’s so important that people can talk to and understand each other. What Inside-Out is doing is letting people see each other, and really talk. That’s the value of education. Bringing young people into prisons for classes means that they really meet each other. They hear each other’s stories and see each other as real people. That’s so important in creating justice in this world."
– Sister Helen Prejean, Author of Dead Man Walking
Inside-Out class
Inside-Out conducted its first training in Mexico in 2018.
Inside-Out 2020 infographic
Inside-Out Today.