experiential Learning, community engagement, service learning, Inside-Out


Service learning has evolved as a primary experience-based curriculum for undergraduate students. But much of what universities put forward as service learning is not a genuine engagement with community partners to help advance meaningful social change to address social problems. In this paper, we outline our preliminary attempt to do just that—what we call The Bridge Model. The discussion that follows occurs in the context of a semester-long project between undergraduate students at a Midwestern University (MU) and incarcerated participants from the university’s prison education program. First, we briefly situate the partnership in terms of its theoretical background in experiential learning and focus on critical service learning. Second, we explain the nature of our collaboration in terms of its aims and framework. Third, we position our Bridge model as a helpful alternative on a continuum with another prominent form of alliance—the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. Fourth, we provide project samples that typify our model. Fifth, we outline the value of our approach to service learning using data derived from student reflection papers and lay out some of the challenges we faced in the project’s implementation. Finally, we contemplate the road ahead.

Author Bio

Dale Brown is a Ph.D. student in the Interdisciplinary Studies program and an MA student in the Educational Foundations program at Western Michigan University. He is the founder and director of the WMU Prison Education Outreach Program, and teaches philosophy courses at the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, MI.

Zoann Snyder is an Associate Professor and Criminal Justice Studies Program Director in the Sociology Department at Western Michigan University. For over 15 years, she has expanded experiential learning opportunities for sociology undergraduates at WMU via service learning, internships, community-based research, and study abroad.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Allred, S. (2009). The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program: The impact of structure, content, and readings. Journal of Correctional Education, 60(3), 240-258.

Burke, L. College programs in prisons adapt to COVID. (2020, June 18). Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/06/18/college-programs-prisons-adapt-covid

Castro, E & Gould, M. (2018). What is higher education in prison? Critical Education, 9(10), 1-16.

Castro, E. & Gould, M. (2019). Higher education in prison: Thoughts on building a community of scholarship and practice. Critical Education, 10(13), 1-15.

Davis, L. M., Bozick, R., Steele, J., Saunders, J., & Miles, J. (2013). Evaluating the effectiveness of correctional education: A meta-analysis of programs that provide education to incarcerated adults. RAND Corporation. doi:10.7249/rr266

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Kappa Delta Pi.

Frank, J. B., Onstead, J., Pigg, S. A. (2012). The missing link: Service-learning as an essential tool for correctional education. Journal of Correctional Education, 63(1), 24-34.

Karpowitz, D. (2017). College in prison: Reading in an age of mass incarceration. Rutgers University Press.

Lagemann, E. C. (2017). Liberating minds: The case for college in prison. The New Press.

Link, T. C. (2016). Breaking down barriers: Review of the implementation of an Inside/Out prison exchange program in a jail setting. Journal of Prison Education and Reentry, 3(1), 50-55.

Maclaren, K. (2015). The magic happens inside out: A reflection on the transformative power of self-expression and dialogical inquiry in Inside-Out Prison Exchange courses. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 22(4), 371-385. DOI: 10.1080/10749039.2015.1075045

Merriam, S. B., & Tisdell, E. J. (2016). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation (4th ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Mitchell, T. D. (2008). Traditional vs. critical service-learning: Engaging the literature to differentiate two models. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 14(2), 50-65.

Mitchell, T. D., Donahue, D. M., & Young-Law, C. (2012). Service learning as a pedagogy of whiteness. Equity and Excellence in Education, 45(4), 612-629.

Pollack, S. (2014). Rattling assumptions and building bridges: Community-engaged education and action in a women’s prison. In Balfour, G. & Comack, E. (Eds.), Criminalizing women: Gender and (in)justice in Neo-liberal times, (pp. 290-302). Halifax: Fernwood Press.

Pompa, L. (2002). Service-learning as crucible: Reflections on immersion, context, power, and transformation. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 9(1), 67-76.

Stoecker, R. (2016). Liberating service learning and the rest of higher education civic engagement. Temple University Press.

Tietjen, G. (2019). Convict criminology: Learning from the past, confronting the present, expanding for the future. Critical Criminology, 27(1), 101-114.

Training. (2020). The Inside-Out Center. https://www.insideoutcenter.org/training.html

Wurdinger, S. D., & Carlson, J. A. (2009). Teaching for experiential learning: Five approaches that work. R&L Education.

First Page


Last Page