California State Prison in Los Angeles County made history Tuesday when 25 inmates received their Bachelor of Arts degrees in communication studies, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said.
The students earned their diplomas thanks to a partnership with California State University, Los Angeles and the graduation marked the first graduation inside a state prison from the California State University system.
“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,” CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison said in a statement. “There is no resource more powerful than an education, where people can gain new skills and learn new perspectives.”
Students worked toward their degrees through remote video learning that enabled them to connect with instructors, making the prison the first in the state to provide a face-to-face method toward getting a degree with the California State University system.
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According to figures from 2018-2019, CDCR says inmates who notch an academic benchmark while in prison are 40% less likely to resume criminal activity than those who don’t finish a form of education.
“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,” CDCR said in its statement.
“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.”
The program, which was created in 2016, allows prisoners to take one or two classes each semester while working toward a bachelor's degree in communications studies. According to CDCR, more than 12,000 students enrolled in college courses, both face to face and through correspondence classes, this fall alone.
In July, nine students from the program graduated on the Cal State LA campus and all had their life sentences commuted or were released because of changes in the law. Five of those students went on to be accepted at graduate school programs at the university.