Incarcerated students currently do not have access to many valuable resources that are essential for studying. In prison, there is a lack of personal exchange with lecturers and other students, presentation of one’s own work, lively discussions in seminars, group work and access to the internet. Despite the adverse conditions associated with distance learning, studying in prison is an important building block in the rehabilitative process for many people, as it can change perspectives on life and improve employment opportunities after release.
Since our founding in 2018, we have been working to conceptualize the first university seminar in German prisons, in which students of the Free University of Berlin and students incarcerated at Tegel Prison take courses together. In the winter semester 2018/19, this concept was implemented as a criminology seminar in prison, which revealed that all the participants benefited greatly and in distinct ways from this unusual teaching and learning experience. The incarcerated students appreciated the opportunity to discuss subject matters that they otherwise only dealt with in isolation, whereas the students from outside gained insights into the reality of the prison and learned from the specific expertise of their fellow students who had direct experience with the criminal justice system.
Similar projects from other countries, such as the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, have shown that prison seminars are very popular with students. With support from the prison’s warden, Ralph Gretzbach, from Prof. Dr. Heinz Cornel of the Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences Berlin and from Prof. Dr. Kirstin Drenkhahn of the Free University of Berlin, we were able to realize this project and we are confident that we can hold courses again this winter semester. We are developing a thematic and regional expansion of our concept for the years ahead.