This spring, CDCR institutions across the state hosted graduation ceremonies to recognize the accomplishments of students.
Hundreds of students walked the stage, accepting hard-earned trade certifications, GEDs, high school diplomas, associate degrees (AA) and even bachelor’s degrees (BA).
CDCR is a national leader in providing education opportunities to incarcerated students. Programs available within institutions include:
- GED and high school diploma courses
- Community college partner offering transferrable associate degree pathways.
- Career technical education courses that can lead to accredited certifications.
- And eight institutions offer four-year BA programs and two more BA programs planned to begin in late 2023 and 2024.
With the continuous expansion and improvement of these programs, there are more incarcerated students than ever utilizing education as a rehabilitative tool.
Students at Pelican Bay State Prison receive degrees
Twenty students at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) received their AA degree from the College of the Redwoods (CR) Pelican Bay Scholars Program.
Graduates earned AA degrees in Liberal Arts, Behavioral Science, or Social Sciences. They also completed the required General Education courses to be eligible to transfer to a California State University.
PBSP and college staff as well as loved ones of the graduates attended a ceremony last month to celebrate this academic achievement.
“Graduates worked extremely hard to achieve this success. CR has helped PBSP provide outstanding, transformative college opportunities to our population,” said PBSP warden Stephen Smith.
The CR Pelican Bay Scholars Program provides engaging face-to-face college courses to incarcerated students. Coursework is engaging and promotes critical thinking and collaboration.
PBSP students will soon be able to continue on their education pathway. The institution will partner with Cal Poly Humboldt in spring 2024 to offer a bachelor’s degree program.
Story by Lt. Leon, AA/PIO
Pelican Bay State Prison
Valley State Prison hosts first graduation ceremony since pre-pandemic
On May 18, 2023, over 140 students proudly crossed the stage during a graduation ceremony at Valley State Prison (VSP) Education Graduation.
This event marked a significant milestone for the graduates, their families, and the VSP community, as it was the first graduation ceremony held since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Loved ones of the graduates were able to attend in-person. Additionally, VSP’s Media Center live steamed the event so that those who could not travel to the institution could root for their loved one from home.
VSP Warden (A) Matt McVay delivered a speech, recognizing the graduates’ determination, resilience, and commitment to their educational journeys, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.
“This graduation serves as a testament to the transformative power of education, demonstrating that with the right support and opportunities, individuals can overcome barriers and achieve remarkable success,” said Warden McVay.
The ceremony recognized a range of students:
- Sixty-two college students earned 102 associates degrees through Merced College
- Sixty graduates earned high school diplomas
- And nineteen graduates attained Career Technical Education (CTE) certifications.
This partnership between VSP and Merced College has provided invaluable educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals.
The VSP Education Graduation was an inspiring occasion, celebrating the achievements of over 140 students who demonstrated their dedication to education and their unwavering pursuit of a better future.
Story by Lt. Gastelum Jr., AA/PIO
Valley State Prison
Folsom Prison recognizes graduates, including first cohort of TOPPS program
On May 25, over 90 graduates were recognized during a ceremony at Folsom State Prison (FOL). Students received GEDs, high school diplomas, certifications in technical trades, associates degrees.
For the first time in FOL history, students even received bachelor’s degrees.
Ten students walked the stage to receive their BA in General Communication studies thanks to the Transforming Outcomes Project at Sacramento State (TOPSS). They were the first cohort to accomplish this milestone while incarcerated at FOL.
CDCR and TOPSS staff as well as friends and family gathered at the institution for the ceremony. CSUS President, Robert Nelsen, graduated the students. It was Nelsen’s final ceremony as president as he prepares to retire.
“This is the most memorable graduation of my career, a moment that has been over four years in the making. I am proud of these students and their perseverance. Transformation is possible, and that’s evident today,” said Nelsen.
Also attending the ceremony was Michael Love. Love recently paroled, but returned to the institution to graduate with his cohort.
“I was incarcerated 35 years, and never thought I would come back here (to FOL.) But actually, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than here with my cohort, celebrating this moment,” said Love.
Love will be pursuing his Master’s Degree in Communications this fall, on campus at CSUS. He will also be student teaching.
Following the graduation ceremony, attendees enjoyed delicious cake and cherished quality time with their grad, reflecting on the hard work and dedication that led to this momentous day.
The success of this graduation would not have been possible without the invaluable support of staff and college partners. Their commitment to providing educational opportunities for all has truly made a difference in the lives of these graduates.
Story by Lt. Deal, AA/PIO
Folsom State Prison
First BA graduation ever takes place at Mule Creek State Prison
On May 24, Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) hosted the first bachelor’s degree graduation to take place on institution grounds.
The ceremony recognized ten incarcerated students in the Transforming Outcomes Project at Sacramento State (TOPSS) as they received their BA in General Communication Studies.
TOPSS is a four-year degree completion program administered and delivered inside MCSP and Folsom State Prison through a partnership of California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) and CDCR.
CDCR and CSUS staff spoke at the event and loved ones of students also attended.
Two California Medical Facility students walk the stage at Solano Community College
On May 25, 2023, two of the California Medical Facility’s (CMF) incarcerated students walked the stage for their graduation ceremony, in-person at Solano Community College (SCC) in Fairfield.
James Epperson and Tim Smedley earned associates degrees and were excited to walk across the stage to obtain it.
Additionally, both students earned, “Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society” merits. This was accomplished by completing 12 semester hours of associate degree course work, with a cumulative 3.5 GPA or higher.
CMF staff and the incarcerated student’s families were in attendance to show their support.
The incarcerated population being able to attend a graduation outside of CMF is unheard of, but CMF staff felt honored to escort these hard-working students to their graduation.
CMF staff believe this will motivate other individuals within the incarcerated population to pursue education and aspire for a better future.
“I would like to thank our Education Department, our staff and the Dean of Solano Community College who made this all possible. The students who were selected to participate have shown resiliency from their past and have worked hard to earn their degrees. I’m very proud of our staff and their families coming together at SCC to celebrate this achievement,” said Acting Warden Daniel E. Cueva.
Story by Lt. Gonzalez, AA/PIO
California Medical Facility
Stories compiled by Alia Cruz, Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications