Inside-out graphic header image
Inside-out graphic header image

Mission and Vision

Mission Statement

Education in which we are able to encounter each other, especially across profound social barriers, is transformative and allows problems to be approached in new and different ways. Inside-Out’s mission is to create opportunities for people inside and outside of prison to have transformative learning experiences that emphasize collaboration and dialogue, inviting them to take leadership in addressing vital issues of social justice.

Vision Statement

We believe that, by studying together and working on issues of crime, justice, and related social concerns, those of us inside and outside of prison can catalyze the kinds of changes that will make our communities more inclusive, just, humane, and socially sustainable.

Problem Statement

Higher education and corrections are among the most powerful institutions in the world today. Yet, both have limitations in their ability to foster just and humane social realities. Individuals in both systems can often feel alienated, objectified, and pessimistic about the possibility of social change. Click here for more.

In higher education, there has long been a focus on individual achievement and a growing emphasis on professional development, wherein the primary goal is to help a student secure employment after graduation. When the focus of an education is on individual and professional achievement alone, students can find themselves ill-equipped to become participants in a democratic society. Furthermore, students graduating from college are often unprepared to think critically about social systems in which they are embedded, and they lack the skills to engage with people across social and cultural differences.

In many parts of the world, prison populations are growing at a pace faster than the general population. There are an astounding 2.1 million people behind bars in the United States alone, the nation with the highest incarceration rate in the world. The cost of punishing and containing individuals is more than purely financial, however. Democratic societies suffer from the lost talents of those who spend years of their lives behind bars, as well as the voices of those who could contribute to civil society. Inclusion of these voices is all the more important, given that those who are incarcerated are disproportionately people who come from minority and economically distressed communities. Click here to close paragraphs.

What Inside-Out is Not

Given the delicate nature of this program, it is important to make clear what Inside-Out is not. Here are some clarifications... 

Inside-Out is not an opportunity for anyone to gain access to prison populations as a pretext for doing research unrelated to Inside-Out.
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People who are incarcerated have a realistic concern about being treated as “guinea pigs” (a phrase often used by those inside) for research that, too often, is exploitative, harmful, and invalid. 

We do, however, recognize the need for program evaluation and research that explores the impacts that Inside-Out has on its stakeholders (e.g., students, instructors, communities, institutions, and systems) and what happens in the learning situation as it relates to collective outcomes.

All such endeavors must be conducted with the highest ethical standards. Please visit our Research Ethics document for more information. Click here to close paragraphs.

Inside-Out is not an opportunity to “help” incarcerated men and women in the sense of volunteerism or charity. 
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Though Inside-Out is sometimes viewed as a “service learning” experience, the phrase “community-based learning” is much more appropriate. The concept of “service” implies – and often produces – a power differential that undercuts the equality of the inside and outside students. If any “service” is performed, it is not doing for, but rather doing/being with, in a true collaboration – in which everyone serves and everyone is served. Click here to close paragraph.

Inside-Out is not a “scared straight” program.
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Our intentions are not to give the outside students an experience that, based on fear, will cause them to rethink their life choices. Though it is sometimes the case that individual students will express either an appreciation for how their lives have gone or a clarity that they don’t want to “end up in prison,” that is not the goal of the Inside-Out program. Click here to close paragraph.

Inside-Out is not a whistle-blowing program that has as its aim to draw public attention to problems inside the prison. 
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The particular prison or system sponsoring the program is not the focus of the class and its discussions. While there may be examples from life inside the host facility that illustrate something being discussed, Inside-Out facilitators need to always bring the analysis back to larger, systemic issues. It is these issues – which include the criminal justice system, as well as larger political, economic, and social questions – that are at the heart of what Inside-Out attempts to unearth in its exploration. No activity in the name of advocacy, activism, whistle blowing, or serving in a watchdog capacity can be conducted in the name of Inside-Out. Click here to close paragraph.

Inside-Out is not a vehicle for developing relationships that will exist beyond the parameters of the program. 
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Even though bonds between and among students inevitably form throughout the semester, only first names are used and no other identifying information is shared in Inside-Out classes. Parameters are critical to this program, as it exists within a very clear-cut, black and white environment. There is no room for shades of grey. Allowing situations to move into the grey area can potentially place the existence of the entire program in jeopardy. Click here to close paragraph.

These are the issues that those involved in Inside-Out need to be clear about, remembering what we’re there for, what the mission of the program is, and how fragile this kind of program can be.

The Inside-Out Think Tanks

Inside-Out Think Tanks are groups of Inside-Out alumni (both incarcerated and non-incarcerated) and trained Inside-Out faculty who meet regularly on a voluntary basis at a correctional facility. The groups form organically, based on local interests and initiatives, and are a testament to the civic engagement, human connection, and sense of agency that Inside-Out courses inspire. Think Tanks operate with the Inside-Out model, which facilitates learning via community building across social difference. Think Tanks develop their own projects, which may include leadership development, re-entry programs, training Inside-Out faculty, or community workshops on topics such as restorative justice, conflict resolution, and racial inequality. Click here to learn more about the multiple Think Tanks now operating around the world.

Statement of Solidarity on Racial Justice

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program® rejects racism in all of its forms and intensifies our dedication to social justice and real social change during this unsettling time in our nation. We are horrified by the systemic violence (both actual and potential) that exists in every part of our country, and particularly, in the criminal legal system, due to the egregious use of power that is too often left unchecked.

We stand in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, believing that such a movement should not even be necessary, while fully recognizing that racism is as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

We encourage everyone to continue, with increased urgency, the crucial work of seeking justice — through a critical analysis of unjust systems — that is at the heart of what we do, both inside the prisons, in our classrooms, and in our individual lives. Let us be newly inspired and emboldened by the rising up of people around the globe in protest to the atrocities committed, often at the hands of those who are meant to protect us all.

As a society, we can and must be better than this. However we can, each of us needs to lead the way towards a change — of hearts, of minds and, in the larger context, of policies that have led to unequal treatment under the law.

Inside-Out class in Mexico

Click here to apply to the 2024 Inside-Out Instructor Training Institutes.