California expands college opportunities for inmates

pedagogy-194931_1280An agreement signed this spring between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office will provide the first-ever funding to California community colleges for courses taught inside state prisons.

Beginning with four pilot project locations announced earlier this month, the effort is expected to greatly increase and expand California inmate access to higher education and offer incarcerated students an opportunity to earn degrees, certificates or the opportunity to eventually transfer to a four-year university.

It was all made possible by the September 2014 passage of California Senate Bill 1391 authored by State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley). The bill provides CCCCO up to $2 million to create and support at least four pilot sites through funding derived from California’s Recidivism Reduction Fund.

Created last year in the State Treasury by California Senate Bill 105, the fund provides money for activities designed to reduce the state’s prison population and lower the rate of recidivism.

The $2 million dedicated to the correctional facility community college education pilot project will be split between the following educational institutions/prison sites:

  • Lassen Community College @ High Desert State Prison
  • Chaffey Community College @ California Institution for Women
  • Antelope Valley Community College @ California State Prison, Los Angeles
  • Los Rios (Folsom Lake College) @ Folsom Women’s Facility

Although a recent RAND report found that every dollar invested in inmate education resulted in $5 saved in future prison costs, California community colleges did not previously receive funding to teach within state prisons.

This limited higher education opportunities for inmates, in many cases, to distance learning models and prevented continuity in coursework between prisons. That will soon change, however.

“One of the best accomplishments of SB 1391 is the coalition between CDCR and the Chancellor’s Office,” Superintendent of CDCR’s Office of Correctional Education Brantley Choate said. “We are now inspired to work collaboratively to break down departmental silos to create the best correctional college system in the world.”

CDCR will work with CCCCO and participating colleges to determine suitable program offerings in each of the selected institutions and provide the necessary classroom space, furniture, equipment and technology. It will also provide training to participating California community college staff, faculty and volunteers to prepare them for the unique challenges of providing educational services to inmates.

“Expanding access to higher education can have tremendous benefits for incarcerated students and those around them,” said California Community Colleges Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Pam Walker. “Community colleges can provide incarcerated students with new skills and perspectives that can help build better lives and reduce recidivism.”

Classes are expected to begin in the fall.