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Prisoners and students learn side-by-side through Inside-Out exchange program

The class teaches the ins-and-outs of the prison system for both inmates and students


"The Inside-Out exchange program teaches both students and inmates." Illustration published on Monday, March 26, 2018.

Taking a college class in prison is not a typical educational environment but for the students enrolled in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, it's their usual.

Inside-Out was created in 1997 in Philadelphia, but 21 years later, the program has expanded to chapters across the United States, and to England, Denmark and Australia.

The program came to ASU in the spring of 2016 thanks to Kevin Wright, a criminal justice professor and director of the Center for Correctional Solutions.

“I wanted to bring innovative learning to ASU and I wanted to do that by breaking down the walls of the classroom, and the prison, in order to teach a class that was both insightful and impactful for our students,” he said. 

For a semester, students enrolled in the program travel once a week to the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence, Arizona, 65 miles southeast of Phoenix, for their 3-hour class session. The visitation room of the prison is transformed into a classroom where the students and inmates come together to study issues of crime, justice and victimization. 

The application process is lengthy, said psychology & criminal studies senior Courtney Fleager.

First, students complete an application with short-answer questions. If they're chosen to advance to the next round, they're interviewed by criminology professors. Finally, a background check is conducted before the chosen students can register for the course.

Fleager said the real-world experience of the class aided her criminology studies.

"The point of the class is to introduce new perspectives and to be able to see the system you’re studying, living and breathing," she said. "Using that information, alongside the perspectives of the inside students, allows us to have a better overview of the criminal justice system."

The class used to be exclusively available to criminology and criminal justice majors, but beginning in the fall of 2018, students of any major can apply.

When Ryan Nightenhelser was an inmate in Florence, he stumbled upon a flyer about the class and decided to enroll.

He called the class "interactive, dynamic and engaging" which taught him more about the prison system he was a part of.

"Learning is not all intellectual but also emotional which made it a profound experience. We went through all facets of the justice system including the police, courts, corrections and even re-entry," he said. "Overall, I learned to view the criminal justice system more objectively and impartially."

The applications to join the class for fall 2018 are now open.

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