Locked Up and Learning: Innovative Prison Education Programs

Posted by on August 23rd, 2017

innovative prison education programs.jpgPrisons have historically offered basic educational programs to inmates. The limited focus programs frequently provided literacy, trade skills and GED preparation. Correspondence programs have also been a popular part of the prison education system. As education has evolved, innovative programs have transformed learning within the prison system.

New instructional models provide unique opportunities for inmates to access more in-depth knowledge and higher levels of academic achievement. Some prison education programs focus on postsecondary education while others provide outlets of expression and transferrable skills. Boston University and Cornell University are among many colleges offering programs to incarcerated men and women.


Creative Writing Program

The University of Scranton’s Campus Ministries’ Center for Service and Social Justice offers a creative writing program to local inmates. The 5-6 week program provides instruction through various creative writing exercises. Facilitated by student volunteers, groups of up to 20 inmates learn writing fundamentals and expression. One of the previous sessions resulted in the writing and public performance of a theatrical play featuring students and former inmates.



The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program was created to allow postsecondary students to become classmates with incarcerated men and women. In this model, students sit side by side receiving instruction and moderation from professors and Inside-Out staff members. The mixed placement was intentionally designed to foster productive engagement. Since its inception in 1997, the Inside-Out program has grown to offer hundreds of courses in several states and countries.


Online Courses

Access to online courses has been on the rise for the adult prison population. Inmates can earn post-secondary education credits, including degrees through courses facilitated online. Online courses are an alternative at the intersection of correspondence and face-to-face programs.


Prison Entrepreneurship Program

The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) teaches skills necessary for success in entrepreneurship. PEP provides business plan mentoring and one-on-one training with executive volunteers. The program also boasts a rigorous business plan pitch competition. PEP provides a solution to the difficulty ex-inmates often find when searching for jobs upon their release. Instead, former inmates can create their own successful businesses using the knowledge gained.

Innovation has hit the prison education system offering a wide range of access and program types for inmates. Similarly, the 2015 pilot program granting inmates access to federal funding for education ushered in a new wave of colleges expressing interest in providing courses. The alternatives to basic education models have given way to higher educational levels. Programs like Inside-Out, the creative writing course in Scranton and the Prison Entrepreneurship Program offer inmates a chance to positively engage with the public while adding to their personal development and educational growth.



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