Building the Prison to School Pipeline

prison to school

Campus-based Support Programs for Formerly Incarcerated College Students

College can break the cycle of recidivism and transform formerly incarcerated individuals into community leaders and role models, according to a report from UC Berkeley’s School of Law.  But what is being done locally to ensure that justice involved students can share in the benefits of California’s outstanding college and university systems?  Programs are emerging on East Bay public college and university campuses that support the success of formerly incarcerated and justice systems impacted students.  Key to the success of these programs is the engagement and leadership of the participating students.

The mission of the programs is to help resolve barriers to student retention and successful completion of Career Technical Education (CTE) certificates, AA and BA/BS degrees.  Many formerly incarcerated students have to cope with complex trauma histories and thin family and social support networks.  Often challenged with pressing needs related to housing, income & employment, physical & mental health, these students have significantly higher than average drop-out rates.

Many formerly incarcerated students, who pursue post secondary education, begin the process at a community college, often seeking a CTE certificate in trades like emergency medical technician, computer programming, child development, culinary arts, and automotive technology among many others.  Since some CTE credits can be applied towards an AA degree, they can become a pathway to two and four year degrees.

By the spring of 2017 programs were in various stages of development at six of the twelve campuses in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.  East Bay community colleges with support programs include Merritt College, Laney College, College of Alameda, Chabot College and Contra Costa College.  Also, a program has been developed at UC Berkeley. Noteworthy for their absence on this list are the five community colleges and Cal State University campus that have not yet taken the initiative to develop programs.  Those campuses include Ohlone College, Las Positas College, Berkeley City College, Diablo Valley College, Los Medanos College and Cal State University, East Bay.

Project Rebound, Fifty Years and Counting

Five decades ago, Project Rebound at San Francisco State University created a national model for these programs.  In spite of the early success of that program, only a few of California’s public colleges replicated the model in the following decades.  That has changed as broad public awareness of mass incarceration led to advocates’ increased demands to reverse the many harms it has inflicted on poor communities of color.  Reversing the devastating harm of the school to prison pipeline, these programs are creating a prison to college pipeline.

Program start-up initiatives have been led by both students and faculty. Student involvement has been key to the success of all these programs.  The Underground Scholars Initiative at UC Berkeley was co-founded by Danny Murrillo and Steven Czifra, two formerly incarcerated students.  For other programs, like Restoring Our Communities at Laney College, formerly incarcerated students joined with faculty member Roger Chung to launch a program last March on their campus.  

Funding & organizational structures

These programs are mostly surviving on shoestring budgets stitched together with student equity funds from the state community college system, small time-limited grants and in-kind support from the college administrations.  Most programs are organized as college endorsed efforts to serve unique groups of impacted students.  Several programs function as students led clubs.  Beyond the club level, programs commonly evolve through several stages offering:

  1. Assistance to students in accessing services and resources,
  2. Coordination of peer support activities,
  3. Opportunities for Leadership development,
  4. Cohort learning communities where student success is enhanced through peer group work and a common course curriculum.

Also, some programs involve partnerships between the college and nonprofit community based organizations.  

Current Landscape

The programs at community colleges include: Street Scholars at Merritt College, Restoring our Communities at Laney College, New D.R.E.A.M. at College of Alameda, Open GateRISE at Chabot College and Positive Returns at Contra Costa College.  At UC Berkeley, students have established the Underground Scholars Initiative. Additionally, two programs in San Francisco Project Rebound and Way Pass serve students commuting from the East Bay.  Project Rebound at SFSU for fifty years has been the leader locally and nationally in the development of these programs.

Connecting the Dots

Our staff and interns have developed a directory of the East Bay programs that will be will be distributed in local county jails and in state prisons with significant numbers of individuals paroled to East Bay counties. For a statewide listing of programs, check Opportunity Institute’s (OI) Corrections to College California online directory.  OI is providing statewide leadership in facilitating the replication of these programs at more of California’s community colleges and Cal State Universities. USC staff are working with OI to help promote online access to our directory of East Bay programs.

Growing the Field

At Laney College on July 12, program representatives met to continue planning for the newly formed consortium.  Its purpose is to help secure program success and sustainability through collective impact on policy and funding at the college, district and state levels.  Additionally, consortium members are beginning to plan for a program convening to celebrate the students, to enhance relationship building among the programs and with community partners and to share lessons learned around program development.  USC staff are providing continuing support these efforts.

What about My School?

For schools not mentioned previously, contact the EOPS (Extended Opportunity Programs & Services) at community colleges or at CSUEB contact the EOP (Educational Opportunity Program) office to see what special services, student clubs, learning communities and organizations are offered to support success among groups of uniquely identified and impacted students. And contact us for more help!

Want to Know More?

In 2015 the UC Berkeley School of Law and Stanford Law School produced a comprehensive report that gives a history and statewide overview of these programs, it’s called Degrees of Freedom. Get it here.

About the Author:

Charles worked for forty years in nonprofit social service, public policy and advocacy roles. The last five years involved serving as the Director of Programs at Beyond Emancipation, Alameda County’s primary provider of aftercare services to young adults leaving the child welfare system. Since 2013 Charlie has been working as a consultant on criminal justice reform initiatives at the Urban Strategies Council in Oakland.

Leave A Comment