Prisoners out-perform Durham University students in life-changing experiment

Jermain James, who took part in the Inside-Out programme when he was still a prisoner at top security HMP Frankland in Durham, where inmates studied criminology alongside students from Durham University.
Jermain James, who took part in the Inside-Out programme when he was still a prisoner at top security HMP Frankland in Durham, where inmates studied criminology alongside students from Durham University.
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Prisoners at a high security jail studying criminology have scored higher marks than some of the university students they were working alongside in a ground-breaking academic course.

The Inside-Out programme run by Durham University with two local prisons will now be expanded to a third, having been described as potentially life-changing for both undergraduates and inmates.

Set up a year ago, groups of students were taken into Frankland top security prison, which has housed some of the country's most notorious criminals, and the lower category HMP Durham for 10 intensive three-hour weekly sessions with inmates.

They prepared by studying the same texts, held discussions, then wrote up essays on aspects of criminology and the justice system.

Professor Fiona Measham said some of the dedicated "inside" students scored higher marks for parts of the course, explaining that some prisoners were already working at university level through the Open University, and could commit time to the module.

The programme has been a success in the US for years, and those behind it hope it can fill a gap in prisoner education, which has traditionally focused on basic literacy and maths.

Prof Measham said the "inside" students were committed to the course and read up thoroughly on the topic, meaning the "outside" students could not coast through the module.

She said: "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."

The Durham students went in "terrified", but bonds were formed after they had met the prisoners and shared in-depth discussions.

All contact at the end of the course must cease for security reasons, and both sets of students were vetted beforehand, she said.

Some "outside" students have changed their career plans, and now want to work with prisoners.

"It can be life-changing for prisoners and also for the 'outside' students," she said.

Both "inside" and "out" students received the same formal academic credit, as well as a certificate, for completing the course.

One former Frankland prisoner is considering studying for a Masters after completing the programme, and said it gave inmates self-belief that they could succeed away from crime.

Jermain James, who was expelled from school aged 13 and drawn into serious crime, has now been released after serving 13-and-a-half years behind bars for attempted murder.

The 34-year-old, who grew up on a tough estate in Luton, has now set up a consultancy, True Heart Of The City, to mentor others away from crime.

Off the back of the course he was invited to Parliament and Cambridge University to discuss penal issues, and has just got work with the Community Chaplaincy Association, which helps ex-prisoners.

He said: "It changed everybody. 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 their prospects and gain social change via transformative education.

"It made some of them change their career and prospects and for us it gave us an understanding.

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

"I was expelled from school at 13, so this came against the odds."

Prof Measham said the Inside-Out programme will be rolled out to Low Newton women's prison.

She said the Ministry of Justice is monitoring the programme and hoped its success could be repeated elsewhere.