Each spring, as part of CJ 426: Selected Topics in Criminal Justice, eight students are selected are selected to work with eight prisoners from the State Correctional Institute Waymart, to work on a project that they develop and implement together.
The students’ assignment is not to counsel inmates, nor to discuss their criminal past. In fact, no one from the College ever knows the prisoners’ history. They are to talk about criminal justice topics, such as the criminal justice system as a whole, prison overcrowding, victims, and even the need or necessity for prisons.
One project focused on the need to mentor at-risk children–how to reach them and prevent them from becoming prisoners themselves. Another project examined the lack of after-care for prisoners. There aren’t many support services available for prisoners who serve their sentence and re-enter the community.
At the end of the semester, students and prisoners present their projects and participate in a graduation. All participants come away from the experience transformed. Evaluations by the students at the end of the course indicate their perceptions of prisoners have changed: they are no longer stereotypes but human beings.
Keystone wants students to be compassionate members of the criminal justice community, and this experience makes them understand the complexity of prisoners, their often high intelligence and practical abilities. The Inside Out program helps them with this understanding.