Pitzer was the first college in the US to establish a bachelor’s degree program for incarcerated individuals, but while Pitzer allows students to participate in classes virtually from prison, Cal State Los Angeles’ Prison B.A. Graduation Initiative is California’s first in-person bachelor’s degree program conducted from within a prison.
A collaboration between California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA), and California State Prison, Los Angeles County, the program offers students Bachelor of Communication degrees. This October, the program is celebrating the graduation of its first cohort of students with 37 incarcerated students earning their degrees. 12 of the participants have also had their sentences commuted and have since been released from prison. Five of these 12 are now completing master’s degrees at Cal State LA.
“Today, an education to me, means freedom, redemption, and opportunity,” said graduate Dara Yin in a graduation speech. “The freedom to create better lives. A redeeming quality in the sense that we can step out of an identity that was destructive and into the person our mothers always meant for us to be. The opportunity to show that we are not our worst decisions.”
Professor Kamran Afary, who teaches interpersonal communication, health communication, performance, and social change, and conflict management techniques in the program, emphasizes how educational opportunities in prison are critical to moving away from the “stigmatizing and dehumanization that happens in prisons.”
Educational opportunities in prison have been shown to drastically reduce recidivism rates. Hopefully, the lifted ban on federal student aid to incarcerated individuals will open up more educational opportunities to incarcerated individuals across the US.
Image source: Cal State LA