December 2022

Bridgeport Correctional Center “inside” students graduate in inaugural UNT Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program closing ceremony

Smiles were beaming, tears were shed, and lives were changed at the event held at the facility on December 6. 

DENTON (UNT), Texas – The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program in the UNT College of Health and Public Service Department of Criminal Justice, an international program that allows higher education professors to teach classes inside prisons, bringing college students together with incarcerated students to learn in an equitable setting, is the first in a Texas prison. At the event, both students inside the facility and UNT students, referred to as outside students, gave speeches, received certificates, and enjoyed a post-award reception. One of the inside students even composed and performed original music for the program.

“The closing ceremony was the highlight of my career at UNT,” said Dr. Haley Zettler, assistant professor and organizer of the UNT program. “Everyone was able to see the hard work that the students put into the semester, and how much they grew as individuals and as a group. The emotions were felt by all in attendance, and I could not be prouder of my students.”

Dr. Zettler has previously worked with the Inside-Out program in another state and was passionate about creating one here in Texas. Also among the speakers at the ceremony was UNT Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael McPherson who says the event was inspirational.

“In my 31 years as a higher education professional I have seldom come across a program so powerful and moving,” Dr. McPherson said. “It was a visceral example of the power of education to change lives, and a reminder of the awesome responsibility we in higher education have in transforming our communities and society.”

A total of 18 inside and 17 outside students “graduated” from the program at the event. Registration is currently underway for next semester’s course. Students who take part in the course learn about both sides of the system – the experiences of those on the inside of the prison system vs. what students in higher education are learning about criminal justice.

“Inside-Out creates a place for learning that transcends the prison walls where the class is held, “Dr. Zettler said. “It breaks down barriers, creates compassion, and provides hope through the power of education.”

Dr. Zettler’s goal is for the program to become a cross-campus network where faculty in various disciplines can offer/teach classes in multiple correctional facilities across North Texas.

The Inside-Out program started in 1997 at Temple University and has since grown to include more than 200 correctional and higher education partnerships, and more than 60,000 students internationally.