News Releases

More Than 100 Inmate Students Graduate from Palo Verde College

Partnership between Palo Verde College, CDCR and California Community Colleges provides prisoners with education and rehabilitation

BLYTHE, CA – The largest number of inmates in the United States ever to earn higher education degrees at one time graduated today at Ironwood State Prison and Chuckawalla Valley State Prison. This historic achievement is the result of a unique partnership between Palo Verde College (PVC) in Blythe, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO).

“There is abundant research showing that post-secondary education programs give inmates opportunities and tools needed to successfully re-enter society,” said CDCR Secretary James E. Tilton. “Studies have also shown that inmates who participated in correctional education programs were far less likely to return to prison after release. Strategies to reduce recidivism provide enormous fiscal and public safety benefits and are key components to the Governor’s recently enacted reforms.”

Friends, families, college faculty and staff, corrections administrators and community college guests were on hand to celebrate the hard work and academic achievements of the incarcerated students. Seventy-one Ironwood State Prison (ISP) inmates earned Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees, and another 15 received vocational certificates. At the neighboring Chuckawalla Valley State Prison (CVSP), 27 inmates received Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees and 20 inmates earned vocational certificates.

Education administrators note that the distance learning college program at the two prisons has provided advantages to PVC, the community of Blythe, and surrounding areas.

“Our college programs at Ironwood and CVSP not only benefit incarcerated students, but the students in our community as well,” PVC Superintendent/President Dr. James Hottois said. “The distance education program has enabled us to offer a broader curriculum and expand course offerings to the students in outlying areas served by the college and to disabled students unable to attend classes on campus,” he added.

Nine of the incarcerated students at ISP graduated Cum Laude (3.5 to 3.699 GPA), eight Magana Cum Laude (3.7 to 3.899 GPA),and two Summa Cum Laude (3.9 to 4.0 GPA). Seven CVSP students graduated Cum Laude, two Magna Cum Laude, and one Summa Cum Laude.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Marshall (Mark) Drummond celebrated the hard work and academic achievements of the inmate students. Noting this invaluable higher education partnership, Chancellor Drummond said, “This program is fulfilling the mission of the community colleges – which is to provide quality education that is affordable and accessible to all Californians – including those students who are incarcerated. This program can be replicated if other community college districts choose to do so. But for now, we want to recognize the inmate students whose many hardships did not prevent them from earning their degrees. We appreciate the productive partnerships that Palo Verde College has enjoyed with Ironwood and Chuckawalla Valley State Prisons.”

PVC’s college project at ISP started in the spring of 2001 and is the first among community colleges to offer a comprehensive post-secondary program of study within prison walls. Inmates have no access to computers or the Internet, so PVC faculty members videotape their classes. Inmates at both prisons assist by providing tutoring and support for students in study groups.

Supportive services, including textbooks and counseling, are offered to inmates enrolled as full-time students at PVC through Extended Opportunities Programs and Services (EOPS). Funded by the State of California since 1969 at all community college campuses, EOPS provides counseling, tutoring, financial assistance, and other services to ensure academic success for eligible low-income and educationally disadvantaged students.

The California Community Colleges is the largest higher educational system in the nation comprised of 72 districts and 109 colleges with more than 2.5 million students per year. Community colleges supply workforce training and basic skills education, prepare students for transfer to four-year institutions and offer opportunities for personal enrichment and lifelong learning. The System Office provides leadership, advocacy and support under the direction of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges.

ISP houses 4,872 minimum- and medium-custody male inmates. CVSP houses 4,151 medium- and low medium-custody male felons. More than 2,000 people are employed at the two correctional facilities.

On the web:

Palo Verde College

Ironwood State Prison

Chuckawalla Valley State Prison

California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Photos of Graduation