The Prison Education Project of California

By ChristopherZoukis

The aim of California's Prison Education Project (PEP) is to reduce recidivism and encourage partnerships between the state's colleges and prisons.  Currently, PEP involves six prisons and about 2,000 prison inmates--both men and women.  The program is delivered via 2,000 volunteers from regional colleges and community colleges.  This volunteer-based outreach program is then complemented by the more formal Reintegration Academy that is a multi-part program that sees approved inmates enrolled in community college so they may attend courses upon their release.  This multi-faceted project is set to expand; its goals are to reduce California's rate of recidivism by at least 1% and save the state thousands of dollars in costs associated with the care and housing of prisoners.  Image courtesy www.prisoneducationproject.org

The Prisons

Currently PEP is offered to inmates at the "California Institution for Men, the California Institution for Women, the California Rehabilitation Center, the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, and the Old Folsom Men & Women's facilities."  The program asserts that there are now 300 volunteers associated with the project.  Their role is to "expand" the educational opportunities available for prisons.  In that light, this program is designed to complement other prison-based initiatives such as the Reintegration Academy which is also featured on the PEP website.

PEP Highlights

The program's volunteers provide educational programming for the inmates.  Student volunteers from California colleges provide various educational sessions that will frequently involve college orientation subject matter.  For instance, one session might feature a discussion of college majors while another might focus on the role of minor areas of study.  Another presentation might deal with the college entrance process or explain the various facets of an entrance application.  Student volunteers also deliver presentations about careers as well as topics relative to college life.  The roughly 90-minute sessions give the inmates a glimpse of another path--a road they may choose to travel upon their release.

The student volunteers also tackle specific subject matter for tutoring sessions.  Language Arts and Math tutorials are hallmarks of the PEP platform.  Tutoring sessions are designed to help inmates master basic academic skills for passing the GED as well as college entrance exams.  Therefore, much of the instruction is geared for these tests.  The tutoring and presentations also help reinforce the notion that prisoners are not abandoned because of their crimes.  By making connections with the outer world that are positive and helpful, many incarcerated individuals discover that there are opportunities they never knew existed in regard to education. 

Reintegration Academy

Founded by Dr. Renford Reese, the Reintegration Academy has been dubbed a "prison-to-school pipeline."  The program invites selected parolees to participate by attending college for various educational sessions that culminate in registration as well as a job fair.  By helping newly released people integrate into an educational setting, the program is designed to reduce their potential for recidivism and help them find personal success.  The Reintegration Academy has been helping parolees since 2009.  Each academic session lasts ten weeks.  Parolees are selected based on their ability and criteria designed by the program's initiators.

Both PEP and the Reintegration Academy rely on hundreds of volunteers to deliver the different aspects of the programs.  The programs also rely on California colleges.  The hope is that more colleges will participate so that more inmates can be reached and encouraged to give education a try.