Cal State LA’s Prison Graduation Initiative is the state’s only public bachelor’s degree program sending professors to teach behind bars. College programs like it were once far more common, and today advocates are hopeful the political winds have shifted enough to bring public dollars back to prison education.
Federal legislation that would make grant aid available has bipartisan support, and in California, a bill to open the state’s financial aid program to incarcerated students is headed to the governor’s desk.
Four nights a week, a Cal State professor teaches a three-hour class at the prison that builds toward a bachelor’s in communications. It wasn’t the guys’ first choice, but the business degree they lobbied for was off the table because they lacked the math coursework. Still, they’ve found meaning in the choice of major.
“It was a stroke of genius,” said Daniel Whitlow, 39, who has been in prison since he was 17. “They taught a bunch of traumatized people that don’t know how to communicate how to communicate and transcend their trauma.”
Recidivism rates in California are stubbornly high: about half of people coming out of California prisons end up getting convicted of another crime — a rate that hasn’t changed in 10 years, the state auditor found, despite increased investment in rehabilitation.
But school is a powerful tool against those odds. A major study by the RAND Corporation found taking classes in prison cuts the chances of getting locked up again by 43%.
To read more of Vanessa Rancano's (KQED) article, please click here.