California’s public universities are starting to embrace a program that helps transition people from prison to campus.
A program at San Francisco State University has quietly been helping former prisoners earn college degrees for decades. Now, it’s gaining wider attention as schools around the state begin to look for ways to help formerly incarcerated men and women gain access to higher education.
In 1967, John Irwin, who had been incarcerated before becoming a sociology professor at SF State, launched Project Rebound. The idea was that helping formerly incarcerated people earn degrees would drastically limit the chances that they would end up behind bars again. Nearly 50 years later, that's proven to be the case. In California, more than half of the people released from prison wind up behind bars again. But just 3 percent of Project Rebound students return to prison, according to 2010 figures. Graduation rates for Project Rebound students are high, too: more than 90 percent eventually graduate. while the university's overall graduation rate is closer to 50 percent.
The men and women who participate in the project have “a psychological hardiness,” said Jason Bell, the current director, who himself participated in the program before taking the helm in 2005. Bell had struggled through high school. While he did earn a diploma, he never thought he’d “be college material.” He didn’t know anyone who had pursued postsecondary education, he said. Then, a fight at a barbeque ended badly and he found himself in prison on attempted murder charges. He spent his entire 20s behind bars.
“They have a lot to say,” Bell said, of the students, who so often were overlooked by counselors and others as teenagers. Grown men have collapsed into tears in his office, he said, when they finally realize they can earn degrees. “They thought something was wrong with them,” he said.
To read more of Emily Deruy's article, please click here.