Pitzer College Launches Country’s First Inside-Out Bachelor’s Degree Program for the Incarcerated; Pilot program begins this year at California Rehabilitation Center

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“Our Claremont students and faculty get the experience of a unique pedagogy and academic environment, and it provides inside students a path to a better future.” – Pitzer College Melvin L. Oliver

Incarcerated men at California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) in Norco, CA, can now earn a bachelor’s of arts degree from one of the country’s top liberal arts colleges. Pitzer College, a member of The Claremont Colleges, is the first university or college in the country to develop a bachelor’s degree program for the incarcerated based on a sustainable inside-out curriculum. The inaugural cohort of eight incarcerated students in the Pitzer Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA are expected to graduate by the end of 2021.

A ceremonial “college acceptance letter” and memorandum of understanding signing event will be held on December 10 at 1 p.m. PST. The ceremony will be hosted virtually on Zoom with key speakers, including Pitzer College President Melvin L. Oliver, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Superintendent Shannon Swain from the Office of Correctional Education and admitted students from CRC.

Pitzer Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA is the country’s first degree-seeking prison education program whereby incarcerated “inside” students and “outside” students from The Claremont Colleges attend classes together in prison and are working toward earning bachelor’s degrees.

The Pathway is part of the intercollegiate Justice Education Initiative (JEI) program at the Claremont Colleges, which builds on established partnerships between the five undergraduate institutions of The Claremont Colleges. Courses in the program are taught by professors from Pitzer, Pomona, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd and Scripps colleges.

The Claremont JEI model consists of an equal number of inside and outside students in each course. All inside students earn college credit, whether they are degree-seeking or not. The model allows Claremont College professors to teach their regular curriculum. The only difference is that the classes are held inside a prison (via online video-conferencing during COVID). This program has demonstrated a unique pedagogy opportunity for both inside and outside students and professors. Currently, The Claremont Colleges provide the densest concentration of inside-out classes available in the nation.

“Pitzer Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA is at the heart of the College’s educational objectives and core values, particularly social and racial justice, social responsibility and the ethical implications of knowledge and action,” says Pitzer President Melvin L. Oliver. “Our Claremont students and faculty get the experience of a unique pedagogy and academic environment, and it provides inside students a path to a better future.”

Incarcerated students in the Pitzer Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA program go through the same rigorous application process as all other prospective students. They are held to the same academic policies, including the 32-course requirement to graduate as Pitzer students.

The pathway requires up to three years of college credits before entering the program, two from community colleges and up to one year of accumulated credits from four-year accredited institutions. This year’s cohort is working toward earning degrees in organizational studies, an interdisciplinary course of study focusing on administrative, economic, political, psychological and sociological factors.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with nearly 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons in 2018, according to Department of Justice data. Following their release, 86% of prisoners will be rearrested in three years. A RAND Corporation study found that correctional education programs reduce the inmates’ chances of returning to prison, and those who participate had 43% lower odds of recidivating. Additionally, such programs significantly increase formerly incarcerated individuals’ odds of obtaining meaningful employment upon release. California has the country’s largest prison system and the second largest number of incarcerated individuals behind Texas.

“Pitzer is demonstrating that there is a sustainable way for colleges and universities to build degree programs in prisons and better serve the needs of their traditional students,” says Nigel Boyle, Pitzer professor of political studies and head of the program. “Widely replicated, this model can have a crucial role in moving the US away from this cycle of mass incarceration.”

The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation provided a grant to Pitzer College to help launch this unique in-prison bachelor’s degree program that aims to increase successful re-entry transition into society upon release. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided a grant to support the JEI program and its transition to an online learning format due to COVID-19.

About Pitzer College
Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility and community involvement. For more information, please visit http://www.pitzer.edu.

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