Home News How Prison Education Can Transform College Learning: Lessons from the Inside

How Prison Education Can Transform College Learning: Lessons from the Inside


In this article, Prison education refers to formal and informal educational opportunities provided to individuals incarcerated within prison facilities. These learning experiences may encompass academic courses, vocational training programs, life skills instruction or artistic classes that aim to strengthen prisoners’ personal and professional development while contributing towards society by reducing recidivism, improving public safety or furthering social justice goals.

Prison education can also benefit college students and educators who participate in prison-based learning programs like Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. Through such programs, college students and prisoners interact in one classroom in dialogue, collaboration, and mutual learning – helping both parties gain valuable insights from one another’s diverse life experiences, along with critical and creative thinking capabilities.

college should be more like prison
college should be more like prison

The Benefits of Prison Education for College Students and Educators

Some of the benefits of prison education for college students and educators are:

  • Challenging Stereotypes and Prejudices. By engaging with prisoners, college students and educators can break down the barriers and stigma that often separates them from this population. By seeing prisoners as people with dignity, potential, and aspirations versus criminals or threats they can also recognize structural factors contributing to mass incarceration and social inequality.
  • Prison Education Enhances Academic and Intellectual Skills. By engaging in prison education, college students and educators can deepen their understanding of different disciplines such as sociology, criminology, psychology, history literature art. They can also develop critical thinking problem-solving communication research skills as they explore complex and controversial issues from multiple viewpoints while applying theoretical knowledge into real world situations and contexts.
  • Participating in prison education fosters personal and professional growth. College students and educators who take part can expand their horizons and worldview as they encounter different cultures, values, beliefs and practices; develop empathy, compassion, respect and humility while listening to prisoners’ stories of experience; as well as discover passions, interests and goals while reflecting upon their identity, values and beliefs.

The Challenges and Opportunities of Prison Education for College Students and Educators

While prison education can bring numerous advantages for both college students and educators, its implementation also presents many obstacles and opportunities that need to be considered and overcome. Examples include:

  • Ethical and practical issues surrounding prison education must also be taken into consideration, with students and educators involved in prison education needing to understand and respect both the rules and regulations of prison systems, as well as prisoners’ rights and responsibilities, before engaging in such work. They must also remain aware of and respect power dynamics between themselves and prisoners that exist between them; avoid exploiting, patronizing or romanticizing prisoners when engaging with prison education programs and be ready for emotional or psychological impacts of such programs, seeking support or guidance as necessary.
  • College students and educators involved in prison education need to consider ways of maintaining and expanding their efforts and impact beyond the duration and scope of any given program. They must advocate for expanding prison education both inside and outside prison systems; collaborate and network with stakeholders involved such as prison officials, policymakers, researchers and activists involved with prison education activities; as well as advocate on their behalf for improvements and expansion within these systems.
  • Innovation and transformation of prison education. College students and educators involved with prison education must experiment with and innovate new and cutting-edge ways of teaching and learning both inside and outside prison walls. They should challenge traditional, dominant models that reproduce social inequities through education while creating alternative models which empower and liberate both prisoners as well as themselves.


Prison education can transform college learning, by providing college students and educators with unique and valuable opportunities to learn from and with prisoners, who are often marginalized and silenced in society and academia. Through prison education, college students and educators can not only enhance their academic and intellectual skills, but also foster their personal and professional growth. They can also challenge and change their stereotypes and prejudices, as well as the structures and systems that produce and perpetuate mass incarceration and social injustice. Prison education can thus be a powerful and transformative tool for social and educational change, for both the inside and the outside.

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