Cellblock Scholars: The First College Behind Bars

Nearly one out of every hundred people in the United States is incarcerated, making it the country with the most jailed population in the world. That’s a scary statistic, especially considering the school-to-prison pipeline and systemic injustice plaguing BIPOC communities. However, a small step forward is being made with San Quentin State offering a historic first; an accredited college experience for the prison population. Per AP News

“Dressed in matching blue uniforms, the students only break from their discussion when a guard enters the classroom, calling out each man’s last name and waiting for them to reply with the last two digits of their inmate number. They are students at Mount Tamalpais College at San Quentin State Prison, the first accredited junior college in the country based behind bars. Inmates can take classes in literature, astronomy, American government, precalculus and others to earn an Associate of Arts degree.

Named for a mountain near the prison, the college was accredited in January after a 19-member commission from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges determined the extension program based at San Quentin for more than two decades was providing high-quality education.

‘This is a profound step forward in prison education,’ said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, the umbrella organization for all U.S. higher education institutions. Mitchell said Mount Tamalpais College is ‘an extraordinary model’ that will give it autonomy not seen in prison programs attached to outside schools.”

Hopefully, this can be implemented across the country and give inmates access to more 

opportunities upon release.

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Desiree Martinez

Desiree Martinez

Desiree Martinez is a proud native from South Central Los Angeles and LAUSD alumna. She is a first-generation college graduate from UCLA where she completed her BA in Sociology with a minor in Education Studies. Upon experiencing the lack of representation of students of color in higher education, she developed a passion fighting for social justice in k-12 education. A child’s zip code should not determine their education attainment, yet this is the challenge many students face today. Her experiences in her community propelled her to fight for social justice in educational equity work with Students for Education Reform (SFER). Desiree leads the organizing work for SFER in Los Angeles where she works and trains college students to advocate for better schools in marginalized communities and eliminate the belief gap.

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