Update 4/25/2021: This article was updated to correct a factual error reporting the program to be the first of its kind.
The University of California, Irvine and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation established the first UC in-prison Bachelor of Arts program in December 2020. Through the Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees (LIFTED) project, incarcerated students at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJDCF) in San Diego are able to work toward earning a Bachelors of Arts in sociology.
“Education is one the most powerful interventions we can engage in,” Associate Professor and Director of the LIFTED program Keramet Reiter said. “Educational programs are a reallocation of the funds already being spent in the penal system and achieve much more successful objectives. Lower recidivism means less crime and improved long-term public safety.”
Since Senate Bill 1391 was passed, all California state prisons have allowed incarcerated individuals to earn associate’s degrees from local community colleges. Starting in Fall 2022, LIFTED will expand the program to encompass bachelor’s degrees as well. Using the existing transfer track, incarcerated students with a 3.5 GPA or higher who meet all of the UC eligibility requirements will be able to work toward a bachelor’s from inside RJDCF. If they complete their sentence before earning their degree, UCI will allow students to study and matriculate onto campus after being released to finish all necessary courses.
The first cohort of inmates consists of 35 students who have earned their associate’s in sociology through Southwestern College. They will be applying to UC schools this year and Reiter said she is hoping at least 25 will be accepted. Students will also be eligible to receive Pell Grants from the school after being accepted.
UCI faculty will deliver all required courses inside the prison itself, and the first group of students are expected to graduate in 2024. Any teacher who is willing to teach classes is eligible and would be grading the students’ work as if they were attending a traditional school. According to Reiter, in completing this program, this model will show other community colleges and universities that it can be replicated and can foster “community college, prison partnerships.”
This program will assist formerly incarcerated individuals to become “more transparent” and become active members in their communities by “meeting people on the outside and making those connections/bonds with their community,” Reiter says. Individuals may have “slipped through the educational cracks” before but now this program is “expanding the resources that are designed to serve all Californians.”
Reiter said she hopes that more majors will be offered and overtime “we’ll encourage other UCs to develop these kinds of community college, prison partnerships.”
Haniyeh Safaei is a Staff Photographer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.