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Friday, November 15, 2013

New course turns learning ‘Inside-Out’
for college students, Blackburn inmates

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UK students and Blackburn Correctional Complex students meet once a week at the minimum-security prison in Lexington. (Photo from UKNow)


 

By Ann Blackford
Special to KyForward
 

A new course at the University of Kentucky is putting 16 college students behind prison walls once a week.
 

The students are participating in a unique learning opportunity this semester with incarcerated individuals from Kentucky’s Blackburn Correctional Complex, a minimum-security Lexington prison.
 

UK College of Social Work and Department of Sociology are partnering with the Kentucky Department of Corrections to pilot the course called “Drugs and Crime, An Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program Course.” The course, which meets once a week, brings the two groups together to study as peers at Blackburn.
 

The course examines the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs through the lens of sociological analysis and a social work framework for policy and treatment. Throughout the semester, students read more than 400 pages, write 10 reflection papers, create group presentations, and write a 15-20 page final paper. By the end of the semester, students will have an understanding of issues surrounding: 1) addiction and health, 2) criminalization of drug use, and 3) system responses to drugs and crime.
 

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The course is part of the international Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. (Photo from UKNow)

The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program was developed in 1997 at Temple University and founded on the premise that incarcerated individuals and college students had a significant amount to learn from each other when studying together as peers in the same environment. The program is currently successfully operating in more than 300 prison institutions and college/university programs worldwide, and this is the first semester at UK.
 

Carrie Oser, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Michele Staton-Tindall, associate professor in the College of Social Work serve as instructors for the course. Both say that the Kentucky Department of Corrections has been very supportive of the Inside-Out Program and forward-thinking as they look for learning opportunities for students.
 

“I wanted to teach an Inside-Out course because as a sociologist, I believe it’s important to examine social problems like drugs and crime from multiple perspectives, as it could ultimately promote social change,” Oser said.
 

“The class focuses on reasons underlying addiction and the consequences of addiction for individuals, families, communities, and systems,” Staton-Tindall added. “This class provides a tremendous opportunity for students to sit together and understand different viewpoints on these experiences — an opportunity that reaches beyond traditional classrooms to begin to understand how different life experiences actually shape learning.”
 

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The course brings together 16 UK students and 16 inmates from Blackburn. (Photo from UKNow)

At the end of the semester, a closing ceremony is planned to celebrate the students’ accomplishments. Officials from the Kentucky Department of Corrections, Blackburn and UK will attend and listen as students present their course projects and papers and discuss their perspectives about the course.
 

So far, student feedback has been highly supportive. Rachel, a UK “outside” student said, “This class has meant more than I could have ever hoped. It’s shattered my biases. This has been the most influential and meaningful class of my undergraduate career.”
 

Likewise, John, an “inside” Blackburn student, had lots of praise for the class. “I look forward to this class every week because I am learning about the correlation between drugs and crime,” he said. “It is interesting to receive feedback from others and get their point of view. I love to read and the readings for the class each week are awesome!”
 

The instructors share the students’ enthusiasm. “This is hands-down the most fun I’ve ever had in the classroom,” Staton-Tindall said. “The students’ quest for learning and their dedication to not only the material but to the experience is so encouraging to see. It’s truly a rewarding experience for everyone involved in the class.”
 

“Teaching an Inside-Out course has been the most rewarding teaching experience in my career,” Oser said. “I truly believe it will be the course that has the single greatest influence on students’ future educational and career pursuits.”
 

Ann Blackford is a senior information specialist at the University of Kentucky.

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