A new initiative in California is helping inmates earn Bachelor’s Degrees. Recently, 25 inmates from California State Prison at Lancaster completed Bachelor’s Degree programs from California State University, Los Angeles. On October 5, 2021, the 25 male inmates received their diplomas at a one-of-a-kind commencement ceremony. More than 40 inmates have taken part in the Cal State LA Prison Graduation Initiative since it began.
S1391, a law passed in 2014, ignited rapid growth in the community college opportunities available to incarcerated students. The law provided a pathway for inmates to access the Community College system and receive Associate Degrees. In 2016, with the help of President Obama’s Second Chance Pell Program, Cal State LA launched its LA Prison Graduation Initiative. The program goes further than S1391 by giving inmates the opportunity to earn Bachelor’s Degrees by taking 1 to 2 classes a semester that work towards their goals.
Although Cal State LA was the first to implement a program like this, we’re excited to see that their success has prompted other universities throughout California to start their own prison initiatives. Slated to start in the fall of 2022, UC Irvine will have an in-person degree program for inmates in San Diego and Pitzer College has also announced that their pilot program will begin this year in Norco.
These prison initiatives address and work towards ending the high recidivism rates experienced by formerly incarcerated people. Many incarcerated people spend years in prison, without opportunities to learn a trade, skill, or earn a degree. This leaves them unemployable once they’re released and at risk of reoffending and returning to prison. Access to education goes a long way in reducing recidivism and we have long known that educating folx costs a lot less than incarcerating them.
We congratulate the students who graduated, the staff and teachers who provide classes and support, and Cal State LA for a phenomenal first year!
You can watch more about the program and its students here.
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