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Incarcerated College Students at California State Prison, Los Angeles County Earn Degrees

image of graduate receiving a certificate
Twenty-five incarcerated students received their Bachelor of Arts degrees through a first-of-its-kind educational partnership with Cal State LA

LANCASTER ― Today, California State Prison, Los Angeles County (LAC) hosted a graduation ceremony for 25 incarcerated students who earned their Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications Studies through an educational partnership with California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA). Today’s graduation was the first of its kind in a state prison from a California State University campus.

“Obtaining a higher education in a prison setting through a partner like Cal State LA is an opportunity for incarcerated people to have a true second chance. There is no resource more powerful than an education, where people can gain new skills and learn new perspectives,” said Secretary Kathleen Allison, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

While CDCR for years has offered correspondence programs enabling students to earn associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, LAC is the first prison in the state to offer a face-to-face pathway to a BA degree by one of the California State University campuses. The collaboration with Cal State LA featured video remote instruction where students could interact live with faculty as well as individualized independent study. According to department data from fiscal year 2018-19, people who earn some type of academic achievement while incarcerated are nearly 40 percent less likely to recidivate than those with no academic completions.

“Cal State LA is proud of the graduates in our prison education program,” said Jose A. Gomez, Cal State LA’s provost and executive vice president. “They have demonstrated the power of education to transform lives.”

The Cal State LA Bachelor Degree program is one of 67 post-secondary institutions to participate in the Second Chance Pell Program and the only one that offers a Communications BA. The programs have proven so successful that recent changes in federal law mean access to Pell grants for incarcerated students will be significantly expanded beginning in July 2023.

Through the program, incarcerated students take one or two courses per semester toward a bachelor’s degree in communications studies, with a focus on organizational communication. Coursework equips students with critical thinking skills, writing abilities and experiences that foster personal transformations. Partial funding for the BA program is provided through the federal Second Chance Pell Program. Cal State LA also received support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

In July, nine graduates from the same program participated in commencement ceremonies on the Cal State LA campus. All had their life sentences commuted by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. or Gov. Gavin Newsom, or were released due to changes in the law. Five of those graduates have since been accepted to graduate school programs at Cal State LA.

“College is much less expensive than incarceration, and recidivism rates for students who have taken college classes are vastly lower than for those who have not,” said Shannon Swain, superintendent of CDCR’s Office of Correctional Education. “Correctional education helps create safer neighborhoods with less crime, helps create citizens who work and pay taxes and contribute to their communities, and has a multi-generational positive impact.”

Contact: CDCR Press Office, (916) 445-4950 or opec@cdcr.ca.gov