UWF offers region’s first Inside-Out Prison Exchange course

Posted on March 30, 2022 by Staff reports

Every Friday at 8 a.m., 11 University of West Florida students show up for class at the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution. Once inside, they are joined by their classmates: 13 incarcerated individuals. 

The students are the first cohort enrolled in the Spring 2022 Inside-Out Exchange course led by Jennifer Brinkley, J.D., assistant professor of legal studies, and Dr. Nicole Niebuhr, assistant professor in the Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice. The course, Contemporary Social Justice Issues, addresses the creation of social justice policy and its impacts on society.

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program® is an international initiative that encourages dialogue and education among incarcerated individuals and university students. UWF currently offers the first and only course in the region. 

“Prisons are often looking for educational course offerings and, in my experience, incarcerated individuals are very eager to participate in an intellectual pursuit,” Brinkley said. “This type of collaboration brings so much joy to everyone involved, and it’s important for communities to invest in programs that help with re-entry, as incarcerated individuals will be joining our communities again at the end of their sentence. I am proud that UWF has been willing to step in and provide educational programming for incarcerated individuals, and to allow UWF students to be a part of this important endeavor.”

Brinkley and Niebuhr underwent a rigorous, 40-hour training course in early 2021 to gain eligibility for instructing an Inside-Out course, and joined forces to co-teach the first offering in the Spring 2022 semester. 

Kayla Reid, a criminal justice graduate student, said she joined the course to participate in the unique opportunity to hear new perspectives within the criminal justice system and to expand her classroom learning through conversations with those who have lived the experience. 

“Hearing the perspectives of individuals who are currently incarcerated is important,” Reid said. “I’m appreciating the discussions, and I believe the class is a good human experience. They come into class through one door, we come in another, but we all get to sit as students together.” 

Sarah Goldberg, junior legal studies major, said the course provided an irresistible opportunity to pursue her interest in the prison system and prison reform topics.

“The most impactful part of the course so far has been the dismantling of my implicit bias,” she said. “Incarcerated people have been so ‘othered’ by society that we are taught to view them as inferior in every sense of the word. Having meaningful, important, eye-opening conversations with the inside-out students fosters a sense of understanding and connection you wouldn’t expect to have with someone whose life looks so different from your own. It’s truly been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” 

For more information about the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, visit www.insideoutcenter.org.