Programs ‘invaluable in reducing rates of recidivism’
California colleges and universities have created numerous programs to help formerly incarcerated people earn degrees and shape new lives. One result was significantly lower recidivism rates, the Visalia Times-Delta reports.
The programs operate at 14 state university campuses and nine University of California sites.
“The work of these organizations has proven to be invaluable in reducing rates of recidivism,” the Dec. 22 article said.
An annual report provided by the California State University showed that in 2021, Project Rebound reported a recidivism rate of zero from 2016 to 2020. A report released by the state of California in 2019 showed 62% of people released from a state prison in 2017 returned to prison.
Project Rebound, started by Professor John Irwin in 1967, is a great method for individuals to go from prison to earning their bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State University. The Underground Scholars Initiative, which was created by two college alumni at UC Berkeley in 2013, aims to support educational equality at all nine UC undergraduate locations.
“I immediately was looking for what programs I could do to better myself — not because I thought I would ever go home, but because I knew that the only thing I could do for the people at home was be the best version of me I could be,” said Duncan Martinez, who was sentenced to life without parole in 1994 for killing his roommate. Martinez served 27 years in prison and was released in 2021. He is a Master of Fine Arts student at Cal State Los Angeles.
The EdSource California Student Journalism Corps studied these organizations and spoke to students and administrators involved in Project Rebound and Underground Scholars to understand the impact of these programs in the community.
San Francisco State and CSU Long Beach are among the 14 California State University campuses that offer Project Rebound programs. Out-of-state campuses like Rutgers University in New Jersey would like to adopt their own version of the program, the report noted.
Steven Hensley, incarcerated at the age of 17, is now a law student at UC Berkeley. While incarcerated for six years, he learned that prisons are not very aware of student needs.
“There was usually one book per class of 10-20 people. It was almost impossible to get those books. My perspective originally was that there is no hope. I’m going to come out of this cell with a criminal record. I’m not going to be able to go forward, have a career, have a family, have a normal life. And that wasn’t the case,” Hensley said.
After his release, Hensley worked his way into Fresno State University and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. The Northern California chapter of the ACLU elected Hensley to its board of directors, where he currently serves. He gave credit to Project Rebound for the hope that he gained.
The expansion of the Underground Scholars Program at UC Irvine has allowed incarcerated individuals to take classes while still in prison. Of the 55 students in the program, 25 continued to earn their degree after release from prison, according to the report.
The formerly incarcerated face many barriers, but Hensley says that he received support from other students and faculty members at the college.
“Students are usually open and most teachers are open, especially humanities professors. I have nothing but good things to say. There’s always hope even when it seems like there’s not,” said Hensley.