DENTON (UNT), Texas — University of North Texas will begin working with the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, an educational program grounded in the belief that society is stronger when education is accessible and offered in a way that allows students to learn as equals.
The international program allows higher education professors to teach classes inside prisons, bringing college students together with incarcerated students to learn in an equitable setting.
Haley Zettler, an assistant professor in the UNT Department of Criminal Justice, has previously worked with the Inside-Out program and is excited to offer classes in the North Texas area.
“There's actually no active Inside-Out program currently in Texas,” Zettler said. “My goal is for this to become a cross-campus network, where we can have faculty across various disciplines offering classes and teaching classes in a number of correctional facilities across North Texas.”
College students and incarcerated students both have to go through an extensive application process before being able to take the classes, and there are strict rules inside the classroom that all students must agree to abide by.
“For our students in criminal justice, giving them that actual experience during their academic careers to learn from people who have gone through the criminal justice system is really invaluable,” Zettler said. “They’re learning way beyond what can be taught in a classroom. I learned a lot as well. Just having that conversation and humanizing people on both sides, and breaking down a lot of stereotypes and ideologies about what people are like on both ends really happens in the classroom and in that setting.”
The Inside-Out program started in the late 1990s at Temple University and has since grown to include more than 150 higher education partners and more than 200 correctional partners internationally. Classes include everything from criminal justice to theater to African American studies and general education courses.
“Education has been shown to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes when people are released from incarceration,” Zettler said. “Ninety-five percent of the people who go to prison are returning to the community that they left. This is an opportunity to not only benefit the college students that are taking the classes, but our community as a whole.”