Inmates at California prison receive their bachelor’s degrees through a special program

Before, incarcerated people never would have imagined that they could earn a college degree in prison. But that’s exactly what a group of state prison inmates in Lancaster accomplished after graduating from a special program with bachelor’s degrees from the California State University, Los Angeles.

Earlier this week, a total of 25 student inmates donned their cap and gown and received their Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications Studies through an educational partnership with Cal State LA.

An inmate receiving his diploma
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

The incarcerated men with bachelor’s degrees just made history, as this is the first-ever graduation ceremony held inside a state prison.

“Obtaining a higher education in a prison setting through a partner like Cal State LA is an opportunity for incarcerated people to have a true second chance. There is no resource more powerful than an education, where people can gain new skills and learn new perspectives,” said Secretary Kathleen Allison of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Graduating from college has given these inmates a second chance at life

“It’s upon me to get myself together and then go back to the community that I helped tear down, and help build that community up,” Jason Keaton, one of the graduates, told ABC7 LA.

Inmates marching for their graduation
YouTube

Another inmate, Dara Win, said: “I can’t change what happened in the past, but all I can do is change what I’m doing now.”

“None of us thought this would be possible and we faced a lot of adversity in our lives and in here,” said inmate Aaron Benson. “I’m so proud of everybody.”

The inmates earned their degrees by taking two courses per semester, including summers. Students who are released before completing their degree are automatically enrolled as Cal State LA students should they wish to continue their studies on campus.

One success story is Allen Burnett, who earned his college degree before being released from the prison. He’s now working for Human Rights Watch and is attending Cal State LA to earn his master’s degree.

The California Department of Corrections has long offered education opportunities for inmates that allow them to earn associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, but this program with Cal State LA is the first of its kind. The institution is the first in the state to offer face-to-face classes from a California State University campus.

Inmates during class
Cal State LA

People who earn some type of academic accomplishment while in prison are nearly 40% less likely to relapse than those with no academic achievements [1].

Jose A. Gomez, provost and executive vice president of Cal State LA, told ABC7 LA:

“Cal State LA is proud of the graduates in our prison education program. They have demonstrated the power of education to transform lives.”

This opportunity gives inmates a chance at a better life while also creating safer neighborhoods with less crime.

Other states have also been taking a similar step to reduce recidivism among inmates. In Ohio, a fitness studio has been providing incarcerated women with personal trainer qualifications that allow them to get living-wage jobs.

Inmates sporting their cap and gown during their graduation ceremony
YouTube

More often than not, women who have been released from prison are forced to work several jobs which are usually low paying, increasing their risk of relapsing.

Rocquel Bonner, the founder of Fit to Navigate, says that fitness helped her survive mental health and auto-immune problems. Since 2017, she has shared that experience with others—particularly with imprisoned women—by connecting them to the fitness industry.

So far, her project has yielded great results—there has been zero recidivism in the women who have gone through the Fit to Navigate program.

“So you think about fitness as being away, an outlet, to move thoughts through your body,” Bonner told NBC4 News. “To also get clarity in yourself. To release some things in a non-violent or non-numbing way.”

Congratulations, graduates! This is a wonderful initiative that brings hope to these inmates’ lives. Check out the video below to learn more about this story.

References

1. https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/news/2021/10/05/incarcerated-college-students-at-california-state-prison-los-angeles-county-earn-degrees/

 

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