California Targets Education Of Former Inmates To Fight Recidivism

Posted By Eliana Osborn on July 7, 2016 at 7:32 am
California Targets Education Of Former Inmates To Fight Recidivism

For corrections officials, recidivism ranks at the top of the list of worries. And it’s no wonder. According to a study of prisoners released between 2005 and 2010, more than two-thirds were rearrested within three years.

Many could not find employment because of limited education and their status as former inmates. The Obama administration has pushed for Pell Grants for studies while individuals are still incarcerated. It also is working with colleges to “ban the box” where students must reveal their criminal histories early in the application process.

California recently started its own inmate education initiative to help people move forward and gain an education. Project Rebound has its beginnings in 1967 at San Francisco State University. This year, Project Rebound is expanding inmate education with $500,000 to seven other state university campuses.

“Project Rebound is a special admissions program assisting formerly incarcerated individuals wanting to enter San Francisco State University,” the SFSU program states. “The program offers special admissions for men and women who might not normally qualify for university acceptance because of application deadlines and minor academic deficiencies.”

Once students are admitted, they aren’t left to fend for themselves. Like any underserved group, those involved in the criminal justice system need extra supports from financial to counseling. These services are where Rebound excels from long experience. The program can help with parole hearings, alternative sentencings and other unique needs that may be hard to talk about with regular college staff.

Cal State Fullerton begins its Project Rebound in 2017 with a variety of small financial services that can make the difference between a student staying in school and having to drop out: textbooks, travel, meal vouchers. To begin, CSF will target former inmates who have the academic skills needed to succeed in college. As authorities search for someone to lead the program, they hope to find someone who has experience in the same issues students will face—someone who has been through the legal system.

California’s massive prison and student populations make it an important state for others to watch as they try to expand on the success of Project Rebound. Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education Magazine reports that California has a particularly big problem with recidivism, but that drops by half when individuals participate in college programs. San Francisco State University has had strong results from its nearly 50 years targeting this particular population.  Statistics are hard to come by, but Jason Bell, who leads the SFSU program, says 90% of participants eventually graduate.

Project Rebound isn’t the only initiative aimed at criminal justice involved individuals. It isn’t even the only inmate education initiative in California, as UC-Berkeley hosts the Underground Scholars Initiative, which encompasses even family members of the incarcerated. In New Jersey, Rutgers University has the Mountainview Program to help students transition out of state custody and into community college. What these and other programs share is a desire to find solutions to the issues of mass incarceration in the United States through education, rather than further punishment.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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