In 1995, Lori Pompa, a professor in the Criminal Justice Department at Temple University, took a group of 15 undergraduate students to the State Correctional Institution at Dallas, PA for a tour of the facility. As part of the tour, Lori and her students met with a panel of men who were incarcerated there, most of whom were serving life sentences. During the panel discussion, they touched on a variety of issues – social, economic, political, racial, psychological, philosophical – as they related to crime and justice. After this engaging, hour-long conversation, it was time to leave, but no one wanted to.

As Lori and her students were about to depart, a panelist named Paul approached Lori, suggesting that the conversation could be expanded over the course of a semester. It could, essentially, be a semester-long course where incarcerated and non-incarcerated students would read the same assignments, write papers, and engage in discussion together each week. Lori told Paul that it was a great idea and promised him she would consider it. However, she knew that the logistics of bringing students on a weekly basis to a facility 120 miles away from Philadelphia were far too challenging.

Yet, in the days after her visit to Dallas, Lori couldn’t stop thinking about Paul’s suggestion. She began to strategize ways to make this program work at a correctional facility closer to her university. Lori approached the Philadelphia Prison System and, in 1997, began teaching a course entitled “The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program: Exploring Issues of Crime and Justice behind the Walls.” Paul’s idea was put into practice and The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program was born.

In 2000, other Temple faculty joined Lori in teaching Inside-Out courses and two years later, The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program expanded to Graterford Prison, a state correctional facility just outside of Philadelphia. By coincidence, Paul was transferred to Graterford and was able to take the first Inside-Out course offered there, which Lori taught. When that course ended, the inside and outside students decided to continue meeting, conversing, and working to raise public awareness about issues of crime, justice, prisons, and mass incarceration. Thus, the Graterford Think Tank was initiated, which began holding public workshops, extending the Inside-Out dialogic learning experience to an audience beyond college students.

Having been awarded a  Soros Justice Senior Fellowship, Lori was able to begin working with inside and outside alumni to develop replication criteria and materials for expanding the program around the country. In 2004, the Graterford Think Tank hosted the inaugural instructor training, launching the first of now more than 50 Inside-Out Training Institutes, which have equipped over 800 college professors from around the world to teach Inside-Out courses.

An idea conceived in a prison classroom over twenty years ago has now grown into an international movement comprised of more than 100 correctional and higher education partnerships, hundreds of trained instructors, two dozen think tanks, and more than 30,000 students worldwide who have benefited from these life-changing courses.

Inside-Out class
Over 22,000 students have taken Inside-Out courses since the program began in 1997.

“This whole experience has had an enormous effect on me. The issues that were addressed in class seeped into every inch of my being. The issues have consistently reinforced my desire and need to work for social justice.”
(Outside Participant)