Educating Inmates in an Era of Mass Incarceration

Program Contact

Joanne Belknap

The U.S. incarcerates more people per capita than anywhere in the world. Inherent in our “mass incarceration” is the enormous over-representation of the poor and people of color in our overflowing prisons and jails. This occurs in the context of ramifications from police racial profiling, poorly funded public defender offices, a disturbing number of wrongful (including, capital) convictions, and the ineffectiveness of incarceration in rehabilitating offenders (e.g., Alexander, 2010; Belknap et al., 2014; Stevenson, 2014).

Additionally, with a felony record, it has become increasingly difficult for people coming out of prisons (and jails) not to violate parole and probation conditions when it is ever more challenging to find housing/shelter, work, be accepted into college, acquire food and clothing, and so on (see Convicted and Condemned by Keisha Middlemass). Research documents the school-to-prison pipeline, whereby youth who are of color, poor, and/or have disabilities are disproportionately criminalized in and “pushed out” (more so than “dropping out”) of our schools (e.g., Flores, 2016; Mallett, 2017; Morris, 2016).

In 2016, Ethnic Studies Professor and former President of the American Society of Criminology, Joanne Belknap, participated in Temple University’s Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program (IOPEP), a college teaching training in men’s prison, the Macomb Correctional Facility, outside of Detroit, MI. The week-long training was conducted by both Temple University IOPEP staff and men incarcerated in Macomb. The key component of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program ( is that prisoners (“inside” students) and university undergraduates (“outside”) students take a college class together in a prison (as most prisons will not allow inmates to travel to campus to take a class).

Using the IOPEP model, Professor Belknap taught the first CU Boulder class in a prison in Spring 2017, in the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility. Spring semesters 2018 and 2019, CU-Boulder’s Inside-Out course is in the Colorado Correctional Center (Camp George West), a men’s prison in Golden, CO.

All of Belknap’s Inside-Out classes have been on “Social Justice” and there have been 16 inside and 16 outside students in each class. In addition to academic education about social justice (e.g., housing, work, educational, healthcare justice), this course is effective in challenging stereotypes about who prisoners are and aren’t and who CU students and professors are and aren’t. Most powerfully, “inside” students gained an often-new view of themselves that typically provides them with remarkable pride, hope and resilience. Outside students have unprecedented personal insights into prisons, education and reform.

For more information, please see two articles have been written about Belknap’s Inside-Out classes:

  • Program Activity


    In Colorado




    Public or Private

    Private Program (by request only or for a specific audience or group)

    Program Fee

    Not Applicable

Sponsoring Units

  • College of Arts & Sciences

  • Department of Ethnic Studies

Program Partners

  • CU Boulder Continuing Education
  • Colorado Correctional Center (Camp George West), in Golden, CO (

Audiences Served

  • Adult Learners
  • Minority Group(s)
  • Socio-Economic Disadvantaged