Durham University's Inside-Out scheme sees students study with prisoners

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Jermain James
Image caption,
Jermain James took part in the Inside-Out course during a 13-and-a-half year prison sentence

Students and prisoners have been studying crime side-by-side in a new university course modelled on a scheme in the USA. But how does Inside-Out work and, more importantly, does it?

It is a class conducted much like any other, a group of students engage in lecture and debate before heading home for book-reading and essay-writing.

But while half of the class will return to their colleges, student bars and digs, the others will make the short walk back to their prison cells.

The Inside-Out programme sees Durham University's third-year criminology students study alongside criminals at two North East prisons for 10 weeks.

The three-hour long seminars see the inside and outside students work together on discussions and projects on subjects including prison life and the criminal justice system.

They only ever know each other's first names and the outsiders have no knowledge of the inmates' criminal histories.

Then they write submit essays for marking just like any other class would.

"What's interesting is some of the prisoners did better than the undergraduates," said Durham University's criminology professor Fiona Measham.

"There might be an assumption it's a dumbing down of the degree and that's not the case at all.

"We found our inside students understandably had a lot of time on their hands and did all the seminar readings, some of them twice.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Going into prison was a useful experience for the students according to their professor

"One of the outside students said to me they'd then had to do the seminar reading twice because the inside students had."

Prof Measham said the university students benefit by seeing criminal justice in practice after previously only learning the theory.

"They'd been studying text books for more than two years so for many of them this was the first time they stepped inside a prison," she said.

"It's an exciting and also anxious time for them, what's fantastic is seeing all those anxieties melt away when they get together as students.

"It's exhausting for them, they cannot bring in their phones, they cannot sit at the back playing with their smart phone, there's no access to the internet.

"It's a real shock to the system and when they walk out of prison, going through the 12 locked gates, it makes them appreciate their liberty."

And the prisoners also benefit, partly by getting a qualification to help them upon their release but also by breaking up the monotony of prison life said former inmate Jermain James.

He spent 13-and-a-half years in prison after being convicted of attempted murder.

'Wired with euphoria'

Since his release in October the 34-year-old from Luton has set up a consultancy, True Heart Of The City, to mentor others away from crime.

While an inmate at HMP Frankland in Durham he took part in the Inside-Out course earning a certificate in higher education in criminology.

He said: "It offered me social change through education, it was life-changing."

He told the BBC's Today programme he had tried several educational courses while incarcerated but Inside-Out proved the most fruitful.

"This course was by far the most stimulating, just to mix and integrate with students from a university it reinforced our belief in ourselves and our rehabilitation.

"Professor Measham teaches the theory, we were the practical side of the subject matter.

"After the first lesson we couldn't sleep because our minds had been stimulated outside the environment, we were wired with euphoria, it was such a mind-blowing experience for us.

"It's given the me the confidence to articulate myself and my understanding of criminology."

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The Inside-Out course has been run at HMP Durham and HMP Frankland

And it also proved a useful social experiment to see the difference in the way students and prisoners study.

"In the seminars the outside students would take a lot of notes whereas we were more practical," said Mr Jones.

"We would assess all the information and then get back to ourselves and then transcribe it into our essays."

The course was set up a year ago at Frankland and HMP Durham and the university are now planning to run it at Low Newton women's prison.

Prof Measham said other courses were also being set up at universities on Teesside and in Kent.

And it's well worth doing, says Mr James.

"Some students cried at the end because they saw themselves in us, as humans that make mistakes, likewise we saw ourselves in them as people who make mistakes but had the ability to change.

"It reinforced the very thing that we didn't believe, that we were more than capable of being successful outside crime."

Prof Measham said she is also sharing her findings with the Ministry of Justice to see if it could be rolled out to other prisons.

Ministry of Justice minister Shailesh Vara said: "We want prisons to be places of hard work, rigorous education and high ambition, with incentives for prisoners to learn and for prison staff to prioritise education and work."