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The Possibility Report: From Prison to College Degrees in California

Nearly a quarter million people were incarcerated in California’s state and federal prisons, jails, detention centers, and youth facilities in 2018 and nearly half a million people were on parole and probation—the vast majority being young, Black and Latinx males. California’s over-reliance on jails and prisons as the solution to poverty, unstable housing, public health and safety issues, and crime has devastated generations of Black and Latinx families, perpetuating cycles of poverty, segregation, and inequity. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

At least 95 percent of people in prison will eventually be released, and their ability to access and complete some form of a college degree or credential will increase their chances of overcoming post-incarceration barriers. Going from prison to earning a college degree or credential opens the doors to new possibilities of careers, economic mobility, housing, health care, civic engagement, and the uplifting of entire families and communities.

Ensuring college opportunity for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students goes beyond economic benefits—it is part of our state’s obligation to racial justice. California’s history of “tough on crime” policies, which can be found in Appendix A of this report, created an environment that accelerated the mass incarceration of Black and Latinx men and built a school-to-prison-pipeline for young Black and Latinx boys. High rates of incarceration for Black and Latinx males is the result of draconian laws at the state to federal levels, such as mandatory minimum sentences, long-term sentencing, and three strikes laws; bail policies that criminalize poverty; bloated law enforcement budgets; disinvestment in public schools; lack of economic opportunity; and employment discrimination against people who have been incarcerated. While we work to dismantle a racist criminal “justice” system, we must simultaneously work to create anti-racist policies that facilitate educational opportunity and college degree attainment for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Californians.