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23 Inmates Earn Bachelor’s Degrees Through University of California

23 Inmates Earn Bachelor’s Degrees Through University of California

Twenty-one of the inmates who earned a bachelor's degree from UC Irvine pose together at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility on June 18, 2024. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

Summer Lane
Summer Lane

6/24/2024

Updated: 6/25/2024

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Twenty-three incarcerated students in the state prison system graduated this month with bachelor’s degrees, marking the first time that inmates have earned a four-year education from the University of California (UC).
The inaugural class received their education through UC–Irvine while serving sentences at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.
“This collaboration with the University of California allows these graduates to build a foundation focused on pursuing educational opportunities that will prepare them for a successful future, while making our communities safer,” California Department of Corrections Secretary Jeff Macomber said in a June 20 statement.
The in-person program was facilitated by UC’s Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees, also known as UCI LIFTED.
According to the department’s statement, LIFTED allows incarcerated students to apply to UC–Irvine (UCI) as juniors and work on a bachelor’s program in sociology. The first graduating cohort began taking courses in 2022.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, that same year, allocated $1.8 million for the continued expansion of UCI’s existing prison education initiative. UCI LIFTED has also been a recipient of a Spark Grant from Michelson 20MM, a social and technology impact investment organization founded by Dr. Gary Michelson, a Los Angeles-based orthopedic spinal surgeon known for his philanthropic work.
LIFTED Director Keramet Reiter said the financial ball got rolling for the program in 2014, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation to fund community colleges’ efforts to reach inmates in California prisons.
She said the legislation has led to nearly 10,000 inmates earning their associate degrees through community college coursework.
According to Ms. Reiter, the next step was to provide a “pathway” toward helping incarcerated students achieve a bachelor’s degree.
“How can we continue to build on these successes and create enough space for all these folks?” she told The Epoch Times.
According to Ms. Reiter, the program is primarily fueled by the state and such is an “incredibly good investment” for private citizens hoping to see incarcerated Californians return to civilian life with tools to succeed.
“We’re a part of this growing movement,” she said.
A UCI LIFTED student laughs with classmates at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego on June 18, 2024. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

A UCI LIFTED student laughs with classmates at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego on June 18, 2024. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

According to Ms. Reiter, UCI LIFTED is the first top 10 public university in the country to admit, matriculate, and graduate students with four-year degrees from prison.
“Our first cohort was wildly successful in college: more than one-third of our students graduated with Latin Honors; four won major campus writing awards; six are pursuing master’s degrees next year, and one recently received a commutation from the governor,” she said.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative—a nonprofit that researches mass criminalization in America—the incarceration rate in California is 549 out of every 100,000 people, equating to 368,000 times people arrested and booked into jails annually, one of the highest in the country based on population.
California also has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, when compared to NATO countries, second only to the broader United States.
Key findings from a recent study from the RAND Campaign, a research organization focused on public policy challenges, found that correctional education improves an inmate’s chances of success in life after prison. Inmates who received an education while incarcerated had a 43 percent lower chance of recidivism, which refers to relapse in criminal behavior following sentencing or corrections.
According to the RAND study, a $1 investment in prison education programs reduces incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first three years of an inmate’s post-release life.
In May 2023, the governor announced the San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco would be overhauled as the San Quentin Rehabilitation Center, with an emphasis on correctional education.
The statewide educational overhaul is a continuation of the corrections and rehabilitation department’s implementation of the state’s “California Model,” which seeks to make California’s communities safer by supporting programs that emphasize rehabilitation, education, and “restorative justice.”
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Summer Lane is the bestselling author of 30 adventure books, including the hit "Collapse Series." She is a reporter and writer with years of experience in journalism and political analysis. Summer is a wife and mother and lives in the Central Valley of California.

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