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Humans of RMIT: Dr Marietta Martinovic

Dr Marietta Martinovic is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Justice at RMIT and runs the Australian Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program

“I first heard about the US-based Inside-Out program back in 2005. As soon as I heard about it I thought, ‘this is something I have to do.’ I was so blown away by its impact and by how much I thought people on the inside – incarcerated people, could teach people on the outside – university students who were studying to work in the criminal justice sector. I just thought ‘I must have a program like that.’

It took another eight years or more to convince all the parties involved. But I really believed in its power and so I kept on persisting. It was a real labour of love and passion.

Inside Out finally started in 2015 and it’s now being run out of five Victorian prisons. In each class, there are 15 insiders, or incarcerated people, and 15 outsiders – students from RMIT, as well as Monash and La Trobe universities.

The insiders and outsiders come together inside the prison each week to undertake a subject called Comparative Criminal Justice Systems, over the course of one semester. Both cohorts study as equals. Nobody is being studied. Nobody is being questioned. They are completely there as equals to learn about different criminal justice systems around the world. They write reflection papers and an essay and they do a presentation. It’s very rigorous, it’s university standard and they do it all themselves.

So far, 323 people have gone through the program from RMIT and Monash, and incarcerated people across the prisons. From the incarcerated participants, between 70 and 85 of them have gone on to further studies, which is just incredible.

The vast majority of the insider students have not finished high school. Yet, in this program they are flourishing. Their self confidence is growing, because they are talking about things that matter to them and that they have lived experience in.

It gives them the confidence to say, ‘well, I  might just try that carpentry course that is offered in the prison,’ or ‘I may well start that diploma of business that I was thinking I’d like to do, but I always doubted myself.’ It gives them the confidence to believe that ‘there is more to me than my offending.’

“I had a woman at the female prison, who was an Afghani refugee, who only had a grade 4 education. After being involved in the program, she had built her self confidence to such a level that she became a peer listener in a prison, which means she was basically an advocate for other prisoners. She is now doing a degree in psychology at a university in New Zealand. Some of the outcomes are just mind blowing.”

The benefits to the outside students can be equally powerful. After the program, they  say things like, ‘all my life I’ve wanted to enforce the law. Now, I actually want to prevent people going into the criminal justice system… I want to stop the cycle of intergenerational offending and incarceration.’

The main reason I run this program is because I want to make re-offending less likely and the way you do that is not just through providing opportunities and building the skills and confidence of the inside students, but by opening the eyes of the outside students, so that when those students graduate they will see the human behind the crime and the human side of incarceration

When they become a police officer, or a corrections officer, or a court clerk, they will have more empathy, they will show more humanity, so that the person they are dealing with is less likely to actually re-engage back in crime. In doing so, we’re not just creating a safer society, but a better one.”