By Julia Felton
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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh has secured a $150,000 federal grant to cover the costs of a program in which police recruits meet with prison inmates so the two groups can better understand each other.
The Inside-Out training program is receiving the money from the Department of Justice COPS Mini Grant Program. It will cover the cost of the program for the year, said Sgt. Colleen Bristow, a liaison for the city’s Office of Community Health and Safety.
The city had paid $110 per police recruit for the program, Bristow said. The grant will cover those costs, and pay a professor who runs the program and consultants who analyze the initiative’s success.
The program was launched in Pittsburgh in 2016 and operates as a partnership with Duquesne University, Bristow said.
Before Pittsburgh started its program, the Inside-Out program had been implemented at Temple University with college students rather than police recruits, Bristow said.
The idea of launching the initiative for police recruits seemed logical, as new officers need to understand what happens after they make an arrest, she said.
“This is something recruits should see, because they should see what happens after the fact,” Bristow said. “It was really mind-blowing to me that nobody had ever done that before.”
Police recruits go into SCI Fayette prison to learn about victims, victimization, trauma and “all the things that lead people in the path to why they’re in there,” Bristow said.
“We want the recruits to understand that when you arrest someone, they don’t just disappear,” she said. “They go somewhere.”
The program aims to ensure police recruits understand the impact an arrest can have on a person’s family, as well as the barriers people face when they’re coming out of prison, Bristow said.
Inmates also can come to better understand police officers, she said, and the two groups can learn from one another.
“They find that common ground there,” Bristow said. “We hope we can make it safer on both sides when we humanize each other.”
Participants on both sides can form strong bonds. Bristow said inmates told her after the Tree of Life attack, during which multiple police officers were wounded, they had been in tears at the news, worried that officers they had connected with through the program may have been injured.
Inmates volunteer for the program, Bristow said. Participants range from people who will be released from prison during the program’s timeline to people who may never be released, and they represent people who have committed an array of crimes.
“It’s humanization on both ends,” Bristow said, adding that inmates can offer helpful insights about what type of diversion and violence prevention initiatives may be helpful in the community.
Both police recruits and participating inmates earn three college credits through Duquesne University for completing the program, she said. The university gives participants three credits that can be used as credits toward a bachelor’s or master’s degree, Bristow said.
At the end of the program, police recruits come together to discuss how they can use what they learned to inform their policing.
“We talk in the end on how to properly serve Pittsburgh,” Bristow said.
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