– Tim, UC student
Today, there are nearly one-quarter million individuals incarcerated in federal, state, and local institutions in California. More than 95% of incarcerated people will eventually come home one day, as evidenced by the nearly half a million people on parole/probation today. Ensuring college opportunity means that hundreds of thousands of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals will have greater employment opportunities, lower recidivism rates, greater social mobility, and the transformation and empowerment of individuals, their families and communities that comes from a college degree.
In February 2021, the Campaign for College Opportunity will release a new research brief titled, The Possibility Report: From Prison to College Degrees in California. The brief will include descriptive demographics of California’s incarcerated and paroled populations, a landscape analysis of the policies that make college-going opportunities available for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students, and an inventory or programs offered by the state’s colleges and universities. Most importantly, the brief includes the voices of formerly incarcerated students from all three of California’s public higher education system segments—the University of California (UC), the California State University (CS), and the California Community Colleges—describing the barriers students encounter in pursuing a college degree. Finally, a series of recommendations for campuses and the state are presented to address the systemic barriers in California’s education system and create more opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students to improve their lives and California’s economic health.
I had the distinct honor of facilitating the three virtual regionally, racially, and gender diverse focus groups that informed our brief. With a healthy cross-section of students representing the California Community Colleges, UC, and CSU, we focused our time together on the following two questions: How do formerly incarcerated students experience their transition from incarceration to California’s public colleges and universities? What barriers and opportunities are formerly incarcerated students encountering in California’s public colleges and universities?
What we learned is that regardless of when or where a formerly incarcerated student attended college, common experiences emerged that present serious challenges to higher education persistence and success. The following five findings from our focus groups must be addressed by California’s higher education system and criminal justice system if the state is serious about breaking the school-to-prison pipeline and strengthening the state’s economic health by increasing degree attainment for hundreds of thousands of individuals:
- The parole and probation systems in California do not prioritize higher education and often prevent formerly incarcerated Californians from achieving their educational goals.
- Requirements to access housing leave formerly incarcerated Californians with unstable living situations, creating an environment inconducive to going to or staying in college.
- Formerly incarcerated students straddle two employment problems: Finding work and balancing the need to work with attending school.
- Targeted student support services are key to college retention but are inconsistent across campuses, and in some instances, the responsibility to create relevant support services falls on formerly incarcerated students themselves.
- Campus advisors lack the specific knowledge and understanding to properly advise students with criminal records on career opportunities.
When the report is released, I urge you to read what we learned from these brave students and take action, from wherever you stand, on the policy recommendations we put forward. Like all qualified students, currently and formerly incarcerated students deserve access and support to go to college, persist, and graduate.
If 2020 was a re-awakening from the historical legacy of racial injustice in the United States, 2021 needs to be a year of concrete action. This new year brings opportunities via budget allocations and policy recommendations that can improve the quality of life for currently and formerly incarcerated people, their families, and their communities in California.
– California Community College student
Author, The Possibility Report
Co-Founder, Underground Scholars
Former Program Analyst, Campaign for College Opportunity
Virtual Event: Voices of Freedom
Join us and the California Community College Rising Scholars Network for “Voices of Freedom” to hear from currently and formerly incarcerated students and their stories of resilience on their pathway to a college degree. Danny Murillo will also join to present the findings of this report.