The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program: Teaching Approach and Workshops

Posted by on November 5, 2004

As an educator who spent the earlier part of my career working with men and women in prison and others recently released, I have long felt that there could be a transformative link between higher education and the criminal justice system.

In 1997, I developed The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, an approach to teaching that takes college students behind prison walls to study together with incarcerated men and women. Rather than being lecture-based, Inside-Out combines readings, discussion, writing assignments, and projects to profoundly engage outside and inside students alike, and to inspire the recognition that they can all make a difference in the world. The class is now in its 18th semester, with hundreds of college students and incarcerated men and women as alumni.

One Temple student said of the course, I didn’t expect to learn so much. I didn’t expect to grow and change as a result of the process. As I reflect on the power of this course, I am awestruck and humbled. This is a common sentiment.

In 2003, the Soros Foundations Open Society Institute recognized the Inside-Out approach as having the potential to deepen undergraduate learning and reframe the debate on criminal justice policies, while at the same time providing a challenging and exciting classroom experience to men and women for whom such opportunities are very rare.

I spent last year as a Soros Justice Senior Fellow, working in collaboration with individuals on both sides of the wall in developing Inside-Out into a nationally-replicable model. While my subject is criminal justice, this model allows for a diversity of disciplinary content, while maintaining the core value of incorporating the voices of men and women in prison. Inside-Out classes at Temple are also offered by professors in psychology and urban studies, and the model can be used in many other areas, such as social work, the humanities, sociology, etc.

The contents of our brochure, which appear after this letter, provide information on the history and mission of the program, a description of the class and its underlying philosophy, as well as our week-long training program.

You may want to consider exploring the possibility of offering courses in the Inside-Out model through your department, in partnership with a correctional facility in your area. We provide training in this teaching approach, as well as follow-up consultation. There are three tentative dates set for trainings during the 04-05 academic year. A good portion of the training takes place inside Graterford Prison, a very large maximum security facility, an hour outside of Philadelphia.

If there is someone else in your department or in another academic division of your institution who might also be interested in this concept, feel free to share this information.

You can check out our web site for further information at

If you have any questions, please contact us at

Finally, if you are considering attending one of the trainings, we would be interested in hearing from you over the next couple of weeks.

Sincerely yours,

Lori Pompa, MSW, LSW
Director, The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program
Soros Justice Senior Fellow

Exploring Issues of Crime & Justice Behind the Walls

It has become commonplace to note that, with two million people incarcerated, the United States has the largest prison population of any country in the world, in both relative and absolute terms, with millions more men and women under other forms of criminal justice supervision. The other side of this coin is that we also have hundreds of thousands of men and women across the country working in prison security, administration, treatment, parole and probation. Meanwhile, our violent crime rate, though lower than at any time since the 1970s, still is many times higher than that of other western industrialized nations, and more than two-thirds of those released from prison are back behind bars within three years.
The cost of this situation can be measured in many ways: in our vast public corrections expenditures, in the pain suffered by those whose lives are damaged or destroyed by crime, in the frustration and wasted energy of many men and women who devote their lives to working in corrections but feel they aren’t making a difference, and in the wasted talents of those whose life situations and poor choices have led to their spending years of their lives locked behind bars, shut away from their families and communities.

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program was established to create a dynamic partnership between institutions of higher learning and correctional systems, in order to deepen the conversation about and transform our approaches to issues of crime and justice.
Inside-Out brings college students particularly those pursuing careers in criminal justice and related fields together with incarcerated men and women to study as peers in a seminar behind prison walls. This semester-long course provides a life-altering experience that allows students to contextualize and rethink what they have learned in the classroom, gaining insights that will help them to better pursue the work of creating a more effective, humane and restorative criminal justice system. At the same time, Inside-Out challenges men and women on the inside to place their life experiences in a larger social context, rekindles their intellectual self-confidence and interest in further education, and encourages them to recognize their capacity as agents of change in their own lives as well as in the broader community.

Inside-Out was piloted in 1997 with the support of the Philadelphia Prison System and Temple University. Seven years later, more than 300 university students and 400 incarcerated students have participated in the program. Supported by a year-long Soros Justice Senior Fellowship, Inside-Out founder Lori Pompa has begun the process of taking Inside-Out nationwide.
After relatively limited outreach, approximately 100 instructors have expressed interest in being trained in this approach. The first training institute, held in mid-July 2004, was attended by 21 instructors from a dozen different states, forming the beginning of a national Inside-Out network.
Most college courses are lectures and readings which, later on, we are supposed to apply to real-life situations. This class was a real-life situation itself. The readings gave all of us facts, statistics, and the opinions of ‘the experts,’ but…the students in the class gave it life – we taught each other more than can be read in a book.” (Temple participant)

Inside-Out is an opportunity for college students and others to go behind the walls to reconsider what they have come to know about crime and justice. At the same time, it is also an opportunity for those inside prison to place their life experiences in a larger framework. Inside-Out is a new way of seeing the world a lens that brings into focus realities distorted by stereotypes and myths. Participants not only learn to look at particular issues from new perspectives; they learn to see themselves as actors, in relation to these issues as potential agents of change.
Inside-Out equips participants with both the knowledge and the understanding to address criminal justice and social justice issues through action. The program rests on the belief that individuals, who learn to see beyond the simplistic assumptions that dominate public opinion on crime and incarceration, will in time, bit by bit, transform public thought.

The core of the Inside-Out Program is a 15-week academic course, meeting once a week, through which 15-18 outside (i.e., undergraduate) students and the same number of inside (i.e., incarcerated) students attend class together inside prison. All participants read a variety of criminal justice texts and write several papers; during class sessions, students discuss issues in small and large groups; and, in the final month of the class, students work together on a class project. Crucial to the Inside-Out pedagogy is the powerful exchange that occurs between “inside” and “outside” students. It is the reciprocity and authenticity of this exchange that makes Inside-Out unique. The result is a dynamic and constructive dialogue that inspires participants to generate new ideas and fresh solutions all focused on changing both individual lives and the attitude of public opinion.

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Interested in becoming trained in the Inside-Out teaching model?

Take part in an upcoming National Training Institute and bring the Inside-Out experience to your college or university.

College professors, adjunct instructors, teaching assistants, and other professionals interested in starting an Inside-Out Program at their college or university.
A comprehensive training program that covers everything necessary to develop a course in the Inside-Out model: curriculum development, setting parameters, institutional relationships, group dynamics, interactive pedagogical approaches, and much more. It is an opportunity to learn this transformative educational method through observation, hands-on experience, dialogue, and engagement with a working group inside Graterford Prison. Training will be followed by consultation to assist in on-site program development.
Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, and the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, a maximum-security state prison an hour outside of Philadelphia.
January 3-9, 2005
June 6-12, 2005
August 1-7, 2005
Inside-Out provides a unique pedagogical approach that has the potential for far-reaching change for everyone involved – college students, prison participants, as well as the instructor facilitating the class. It is transformative education at its best.
For application information (initial e-mail preferred), contact:
Lori Pompa, Director
The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program
Soros Justice Senior Fellow
521 Gladfelter Hall
Department of Criminal Justice
1115 W. Berks St.
Temple University
Philadelphia, PA 19122

Tel: (215) 204-5163/6640
Fax: (215) 204-3872

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