A criminology course held inside a prison with both college students and inmates participating may sound a bit risky. However, educators like WVU professor Jim Nolan, who are involved with the national Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, are discovering how both communities reap unique benefits from the unusual classroom experience.
Sociology and Anthropology 493, or Inside Out: Examining Issues of Crime and Justice Behind WV Prison Walls, meets once a week for 2� hours at the Pruntytown Correctional Center in Marion County. Students carpool to the prison to exchange perceptions about crime with residents and develop ideas for improving criminal justice.
“Students get a bigger picture about the criminal justice system rather than just reading about it in a textbook. They experience our common humanity; inside and outside students are alike in almost every way and are often very close in age,” Nolan said. “It’s also good for there to be opportunities for transparency in prisons through programs like this.”
Dr. Nolan, a former police officer and FBI Unit Chief, works with Sarah Trickett, the correctional center’s associate warden, to select “inside students” who would be suitable for the class environment. Reflective writing assignments and various reading materials such as Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic, “Crime and Punishment” help students and inmates create a dialogue about life on the inside and outside of prison.
Near the end of the semester, students and prison residents develop projects about how they would like to improve the criminal justice system and present their work to the correctional center’s staff.
“This class opens your eyes to real issues in our society regarding prisons and the correctional system,” said WVU senior criminology major Steve Coffman. “There are many things that need to be changed. This class is the first step in educating students and the public about those problems. One day in this class will change your views on convicts and the correctional facility.”
The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program was first created at Temple University in 2003 by Director Lori Pompa. Through Temple University’s Inside Out instructor training, Nolan was able to bring the program to WVU’s Sociology and Anthropology Department in 2006.
Now offered in 35 states and abroad at more than 100 colleges and universities, the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program aims to serve students in all 50 states by 2012.
WVU senior criminology and psychology major Nicole Ziatyk feels that the Inside Out course helps renew inmates’ sense of hope.
“It’s hard to think of an inmate as having feelings until you actually sit down with them and hear their stories. I have learned that just because they have committed a wrongful act at that point in time, it does not mean that their entire lives consist of wrong doing,” Ziatyk said.
Nolan has also developed another WVU course called Justice Roundtable based on the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program.
Justice Roundtable joins students and residents in a discussion centered on improvements to the criminal justice system. Final projects created during the Inside Out class are expanded upon and participants discuss ways of implementing them.
The group is currently working on securing funding for an offender reintegration program that will help individuals get situated in their community after serving time.
CONTACT: Jim Nolan, Department of Sociology and Anthropology