DePaul’s ‘Inside-Out’ program looks to offer certificate programs in the near future


Christina Rivers

Associate Dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Jacqueline Lazu and criminology professor Xavier Perez teach an Inside-Out class at Cook County jail in the spring of 2022.

In 2004, 38-year-old Tony Pizarro was wrongfully incarcerated at Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois for a crime he did not commit. 

During his time at Stateville, Pizarro enrolled in college courses to eventually earn a masters degree in Christian ministry and restorative arts at North Park University.

While earning his degree, Pizarro took part in the national Inside-Out Prison Exchange program started by Temple University. 

The Executive Director of the Steans Center Howard Rosing, along with Jacqueline Lazú, associate dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences,, brought the Inside-Out program to DePaul in 2012. 

Inside-Out brings students from DePaul’s campus inside to two Illinois prisons to collectively learn in one classroom.

Pizarro was one of the inside students who took a class on masculinity, law and justice at DePaul during his time at Stateville. 

“There were approximately 12 outside students of diverse backgrounds,” Pizarro said.  “And what was interesting [was that] some of the outside students shared stuff within that class and that space, that they explained they never shared outside in [a] classroom space, or with some of their closest friends.”

Rosing said one of the goals of the program is to break down prejudiced misconceptions surrounding incarcerated individuals by bringing students from inside and outside prison walls together in a collective learning environment.

“There’s power differences when you’re incarcerated versus non-incarcerated,” he said. “But in the classroom, you’re treated as students. That’s it.”

According to Rosing, the program brings DePaul students to Stateville or Cook County once a week to study together as peers and, most importantly, as equals.

“The students from campus are supporting the inside students [through] learning and solidarity,” he said. “The students who are incarcerated are doing the same, but also helping those students from the outside begin to understand the realities of incarceration, and putting faces, personalities, skills and talents of incarcerated students in their view [to understand] that they’re human, that they’re real people.”

Pizarro said he believes the collaborative nature of Inside-Out courses was fundamental in bridging any gaps between inside and outside students caused by preconceived biases about incarcerated individuals. 

“The outside students normally come in with a perspective that, you know, they may be ahead of the curve and come to realize that they actually have to work a little bit harder because like … the inside students actually do the work,” he said. “So it allows them to now come into a space where they can actually learn and collaborate with others.”

Christina Rivers, an associate professor of political science at DePaul, teaches a class at Stateville for the Inside-Out program. She said DePaul currently offers classes at both Stateville and Cook County Jail. However, when DePaul started offering a class at Stateville around 2012, Rivers said DePaul was the first university to offer any courses there in about 25 years. Before 2012, classes were only offered at Cook County.

DePaul does not currently offer degree programs for incarcerated students, but only credit for courses taken through Inside-Out that can be transferred to other universities that offer degree programs, according to Rivers.

She said this is largely because of funding as inside students are not required to pay for courses taken through Inside-Out at DePaul. 

“All the instruction there is pretty much donated, and around 2016, we started offering the course credit, and it’s also for free,” she said. “We provide everybody with books, [and] they don’t pay any tuition.”

However, Rivers said inside students still get a transcript for courses taken through DePaul.

Rosing said they are currently working on getting certificate programs for incarcerated students taking courses through DePaul. However, he said it has been a slow process to ensure that it will be sustainable with the current funding.

According to Rivers, establishing a certificate program for inside students is the current priority because it will offer students a way to quickly obtain specialized knowledge in a certain area for transferable credit. 

“They’re becoming more prevalent, and in universities, because they’re quick, especially if [you’re] a midlife learner [and don’t have] time to go to [school for] four years, or don’t have [the] money,” she said. “It serves that audience.”

According to NPR, of the 40 prison facilities in Illinois, six offer post-secondary education toward a bachelor’s degree or higher. NPR reports some institutions are now offering graduate degrees for incarcerated individuals. 

Stateville has the most post-secondary education programs with courses offered through North Park, Northwestern, Northeastern and DePaul, according to its website

Rosing hopes DePaul will eventually offer degree programs in the future.

“At some point, maybe there will be a bachelor’s degree,” Rosing said. “Other institutions have already gone there.”

Fall semester was the first time Inside-Out was offered in-person once again for on-campus students since the pandemic. 

Pizarro said the Inside-Out program allowed him to build lasting connections with people he still speaks to today.

“You find something in prison that you can’t find free,” he said.