Carnegie Mellon University

CMU Prison Education Project

Prisons play a key role in the U.S. economy and incarceration rates in the U.S. surpass those of any country in the world. Carnegie Mellon University's Prison Education Project (CMU PEP) is committed to bringing education into prison, offering new opportunities to inmates and CMU students, and building dialogue across class, racial and social lines. We need to learn more about our prison system: what its origins are, whose interests it serves, and how it compares with systems of incarceration in other countries.

CMU PEP was formed by faculty at Carnegie Mellon in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. Moved by the desire to address longstanding racial and class-based inequities in the United States, eight faculty members received training through Inside-Out, a nationwide prison education program.

Based on the Inside-Out philosophy, CMU PEP offers several courses each academic year within nearby prisons. Faculty and CMU students travel together by bus to and from the prison once a week. Each course, which combines CMU students and inmates, provides full credit to CMU and incarcerated students and follows a regular CMU curriculum. CMU students should register for PEP courses through normal channels and will be asked to fill out a short questionnaire, which professors will review to determine eligibility. 

Courses at Somerset State Correctional Facility

Fall 2023

  • 76-236, Major Fiction Then and Now: Imagining the World, Professor J. Williams

Previous Courses

  • 79-265, Russian History: Game of Thrones, Professor W. Goldman
  • 85-201, Psychology and Society, Professor K. Manke-Miller
Collage by SCI student featuring a face in profile with gears turning inside it. Written above it is Inside Out College.

Art by an SCI Somerset student

Student Experiences

CMU PEP students and professors gather on the bus to SCI Somerset

"Being a part of [this] course [...] was one of the most unique and rewarding experiences I’ve had at CMU, as I was able to engage in profound discussions with people I do not normally interact with on a daily basis — students who were ostensibly so different from myself but filled with compassion and expressed just as much enthusiasm, if not more, for psychology as I did. I found this course to be irreplaceable by any other traditional college class, providing a distraction-free learning experience where we could all come together and dive deep into the material [and] openly share our thoughts with one another [...] In short, this experience both challenged my naive assumptions surrounding people who are incarcerated and also helped shape how I think about psychology and education in general."

Amor, Junior, Triple Major in Statistics, Psychology and Decision Science


"I cannot begin to express how much [this course] was appreciated. I always looked forward to Fridays, not only because I was getting off the housing unit and going to school, but mainly because the professor and the CMU students treated me and the other inmates like real people."

 — Brandon, SCI Somerset 

CMU PEP students and professors gather outside the bus to SCI Somerset

"This program gave me an amazing opportunity to expose myself to people with different life experiences than mine. It's not every day you get the chance to communicate across difference in this way, especially in a setting where the goal is to learn with each other. It's been an inclusive and inspiring learning experience that I'm grateful was a part of my time here."

 — Camille, Junior, Double Major, Psychology and Decision Science

CMU students have a celebratory dinner after the SCI Somerset certificate ceremony

"The CMU Prison Education Project was one of the most influential experiences I have ever had. I have never been in a class with more engaging, perceptive and dedicated students, and this program entirely changed my relationship with education and learning. The CMU Prison Education Project is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and I could not recommend this course more."

Rowan, Junior, School of Drama


"All in all, I have thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience of the program.  It offered an enclave of humanity and higher education within an environment that is often bereft of both. I was challenged by new perspectives, gained useful knowledge of a fascinating topic and developed an interest in further learning. The concepts and ideas sparked by the lectures, readings, discussions and in-class interactions will continue to motivate me toward positive action and success."

Jacob, SCI Somerset


"Through the CMU Prison Education Program, I have been able to explore different perspectives that I wouldn’t otherwise find on campus. I’ve really enjoyed being able to listen and have deep conversations with people whose life experiences are vastly different from mine."

 — Jennifer, Senior, Major, Computer Science


"Being a part of the [CMU Prison Education Project] in my last semester of college is a memory that will stay with me for a very long time. It’s such a unique opportunity for college students, and it has heavily changed my perception on prisons and prison systems. The inside students I spent time with were some of the most passionate students I’ve ever met, and I loved that we could learn so much from each other just by being in each other’s presence."

  — Catherine, Senior, Major, Design

"The experience of watching equal numbers of CMU and Somerset Prison students get certificates for completing courses taught this semester was deeply gratifying. Our students were transformed and said so. The prison students were profoundly grateful and said so. The professors were profoundly energized and said so. I've been in higher education for 35 years, and I've never seen anything like it." 

— Richard Scheines, Bess Family Dean, Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences

A barred window set into a stone wall. An elaborate, colorful Russian palace is visible through the bars. Under the window, a rusty plaque reads "Inside Out."

Thank you card made by SCI Somerset students

The colorful Russian palace, seen in full without the barred window, surrounded by diamond-shaped paper cutouts.

The CMU Prison Education Project is funded through the generous support of the dean in Dietrich College, participating academic departments, and the educational labor of participating faculty.