Innovation in the Classroom and Beyond: The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program is an international initiative directed at transforming ways of thinking about crime and justice. Inside-Out courses offer a community-based approach to learning, bringing college students to prisons to study in a class with students who are currently incarcerated. Each fall, SOC 2211 S+GE (Corrections) is offered by Angela Bryant at Southeastern Correctional Complex. By learning with “inside” students, Newark and Columbus campus “outside” students engage in critical readings and discussions focused on the origins and development of the American criminal justice system, the historical and contemporary use of punishment and rehabilitation, the re-emergence of restorative justice, and the broader relationship between criminal and social justice. Each spring, SOC 2211 S +GE (Issues in Globalization) is offered by Brenda Chaney at the Ohio Reformatory for Women.  By learning with “inside” students, Marion and Columbus campus “outside” students gain a richer understanding of globalization and its effect on women, children, health care, natural resources, and workers as well as solutions for such social problems.

The Inside-Out course structure includes weekly three-hour sessions at the prison site.  Enrollment generally includes 10-15 undergraduate university students and 10-15 incarcerated students.  All course participants write a minimum of six reflection papers. Papers require students observe, reflect, analyze, and integrate the information in the readings with the prior week’s discussion.  Lastly, a final reflection paper of approximately 10 pages in length is also required. The final paper is an opportunity for students to reflect on their own process (and that of the group), and further analyze the issues that were addressed.  In the last few weeks of class, students participate in a final group project designed to utilize empirical research to guide specific criminal justice policy recommendations, and the final product is formally presented to all participants at the public closing ceremony.  Many of the Inside-Out group projects have been implemented in the prisons.

Participants in Inside-Out courses see crime and social justice issues from new perspectives, develop new ideas about public service and meaningful citizenship, overcome stereotypes and myths about prisons and prisoners, and recognize their potential as agents of social change and as participants in a grass-roots movement to transform public opinion about mass incarceration.  Inside-Out Alumni have coordinated alumni dinners, presented papers at local and national conferences, and been invited guest lecturers at universities across the state of Ohio to discuss their experiences in prison, Inside-Out, and re-entry. Additionally, students have published journal articles about their experiences and there have been numerous university and local newspaper articles published about the courses.

For many students and participants, the course has been a very enlightening experience:

“This class has been a phenomenal and enlightening experience.  It has shown me that as a prisoner there are people that are truly concerned with what is really going on in here.” (Inside Student)

“Inside-Out not only changed the way I look at things in the world, but it has meant a great deal to me knowing that the inside people I have met are trying to better themselves.  This class means a great deal to me because not only did I get to meet some great people, but life-changing people who can make a difference in the world.”(Outside Student).

“Inside-Out has been the most meaningful college class and has given me a great experience for the future.” (Outside Student)

For more information about the Inside-Out classes offered through the OSU Sociology department, please contact Angela Bryant ( or Brenda Chaney (

Photo of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange participants

Recently, Professor Andrew Martin and Dr. Lindsey Chamberlain (OSU PhD grad and current Associate Director of Honors and Scholars at Ohio State) have begun to incorporate iPads (provided by the Office of Distance Education and e-learning) into their Service-Learning class.  The class partners the students with local businesses and community group leaders.  The current focus of the class is on issues related to food access and nutrition.  The iPads allowed student to quickly connect with the business partners, and also collaborate with one another.  These devices also facilitated on-the-fly data collection, and provided students access to real-time data on their topic of interest, even when in the field.  You can read more about this experience in an article Martin and Chamberlain published in Educause.

Photo of students in a classroom