Inmates get second chance at CCCC

Inmates get second chance at CCCCPosing with recent inmate grads from left are (front) Warden George Jaime, Cerro Coso President Jill Board, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Superintendent Shannon Swain, CDCR Director of Rehabilitation Brant Choate and CDCR Principal Dr. Lincoln Johnson. Standing at far right is KCCD Chancellor Thomas Burke. — Courtesy photo

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CERRO COSO COMMUNITY COLLEGE — Twenty-five inmates from the California City Correctional Facility have become the first graduates of a prison-based education program that awarded them associate degrees from Cerro Coso Community College in 2018.

On Dec. 4, 17 men at the facility received their degrees, joining eight men who graduated in a ceremony in May. Students enrolled in the program are taught the same courses by the same Cerro Coso professors who teach in the classrooms on campus and online. All earned associate degrees.

In addition to the 25 graduates, 63 qualified for the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society. To be invited to join PTK, a student must have completed a minimum of 12 units and hold a GPA of 3.5 or higher. The mission of the PTK organization is to recognize and encourage the academic achievement of two-year college students and to provide opportunities for individual growth and development through participation in honors, leadership, service and fellowship programming.

Offering hope for a better future, the Prison Education Program is designed to help students transition back into society upon release, effectively reducing recidivism. Cerro Coso is now offering college classes in two California prisons, one in California City and the other in Tehachapi.

More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in American federal and state prisons and county jails, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Each year, hundreds of thousands of formerly incarcerated individuals are released back into society.

Along with a high rate of incarceration, the U.S. also has a high rate of recidivism, meaning that those who have been incarcerated are likely to return to prison after their release.

CCCC President Jill Board explained in her address to the graduates, “According to a 2013 Rand Corporation study, the rate of recidivism for inmates with no education is 86 percent. For those inmates who participate in a college program, recidivism is at 43 percent, and the number drops to 16 percent for those earning associate’s degrees, 6 percent for those earning bachelor’s degrees, and 0 percent for those with master’s degrees.

“You may have a hard time envisioning yourself making the step to go on to a university or attending a community college campus in the area you live. Take note that many universities and community colleges have or want to have programs designed specifically to support you as a community of learners. I share this so you know it is on our radar statewide that our community colleges can be an option for you to continue your quest for change as you either transition to the university or into the workforce.”

A lifelong educator and transformer of organizational cultures, Brant Choate, director of the California Department of Correc-tions and Rehabilitation, served as a guest speaker, introduced by CDCR Superintendent Shannon Swain. Dr. Lincoln Johnson, CDCR principal, gave the keynote address for the ceremony. William Banks and Frank Rivera served as student speakers.

Cerro Coso is known as a proven leader in how to integrate extended opportunity programs and services and PTK, the success of Cerro Coso’s Prison Education Program has been presented at state and national conferences including the California Intuitional Research Conference, the National Conference for Higher Education in Prison and the California Prison Education Summit.

In April CCCC was the co-recipient of the California Community College Chancellor’s Office Innovation Award for the college’s creative programming of guided pathways, data collection, and student-centered approach in the prisons.

“In higher education we see the potential in everyone,” said KCCD Chancellor Thomas Burke to the graduates. “Our challenge is getting those individuals to see the potential within themselves.”

CCCC leaders say that Cerro Coso’s Prison Education Program provides an opportunity for success after incarceration and improves the safety of prisons and communities.

Story First Published: 2018-12-21