By Linh Nguyen
IRVINE, CA — Founded on the principle that higher education deters recidivism, University of California, Irvine, launched “Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees” (LIFTED), the first in-prison B.A. completion program offered by the University of California system for incarcerated individuals.
This program will allow prison-incarcerated individuals to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UCI. It expands on the program that all 35 California state penitentiaries adopted in 2014, in which the state prisons partnered with community colleges to give incarcerated people the chance to earn an associate degree.
According to the program director, at least 95 percent of people in California prisons returning to their communities will lack the tools to compete in the job market.
“Education 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,” said LIFTED director Keramet Reiter, UCI associate professor of criminology, law and society.
Reiter explained that higher education reduces recidivism by “enhancing people’s ability to get jobs, become tax-paying citizens and successfully reintegrate into their communities.”
Furthermore, the state also benefits from lower recidivism. For every incarcerated person who doesn’t return to prison, the state of California saves $75,000 per year.
“For incarcerated men and women, education can provide ways of reflecting upon what led them to prison, not just individual choices, but also their broader social set of forces and conditions that shaped their lives,” said Bidhan Chandra Roy, an English professor at Cal State Los Angeles.
In 2016, the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles, became the first department in California to offer classes inside a maximum-security prison facility. They offer a program for incarcerated people to earn a bachelor’s degree in communication studies in the Los Angeles County State Prison.
“It’s the same classes taught by the same instructors we offer on the main campus,” said Taffany Lim, senior director of the Center for Engagement, Service and Public Good. “We offer the same high quality and set the same expectations — if not higher. It’s helped them improve their communication with cellmates and people on their yard. Now they’re better able to understand those dynamics and interactions. It’s also helped improve communication with their families.”
Because of policy revisions from the last five years, including the Public Safety Realignment Act, and Propositions 47 and 57, many people who were convicted as juveniles or under the three-strike law for nonviolent felonies will be released sooner than anticipated.
“LIFTED will provide them with a real chance to make positive changes in their lives and society,” said Reiter. “As for those who will remain incarcerated, someone with a bachelor’s degree is better equipped to function and contribute, even while constrained by prison walls.”
LIFTED will consider incarcerated people who earned an associate’s degree in sociology from Southwestern College with a GPA of at least 3.5 automatically admissible to UCI. (Southwestern College operated their programs in the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, CA and the San Diego County Jail – East Mesa Reentry Facility). They can obtain a B.A. while serving their sentence or matriculate on campus if they are released before finishing their course of study.
The program committee has not yet announced where the program will first operate or when it will begin.
“This program will help raise awareness of the available opportunities and develop new pathways for current and former prisoners to continue their education,” Reiter said. “It will also be a model for other departments at UCI besides sociology — and for campuses beyond ours, so that B.A. programming options will be offered across the UC system.”
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