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California Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education

California’s prisons and jails hold more than 200,000 people on any given day, and an estimated 8 million Californians are burdened with an arrest or conviction record. Every month more than 3,000 men and women are released from custody and told to find employment and reintegrate themselves into society. The state’s unacceptably high recidivism rate, with 69% of those released from prison rearrested within 24 months, reflects the often-impossible nature of this demand. With each failure, the cycle of crime, poverty and mass incarceration continues.

Rethinking mass incarceration will require work in all sectors, from housing and public health to employment and education. All have a role to play, but our public higher education system is especially critical and effective. Research shows a 43% reduction in recidivism associated with education in custody, and 51% lower odds of recidivating for college programs. Higher education credentials and degrees reap significant economic benefits for returning individuals and their communities. Educational attainment facilitates positive social networks that mitigate the myriad effects of a criminal record and increases the odds of finding employment. Credentials and degrees also have a powerful intergenerational impact, building role models and increasing social mobility for generations to come. Using education to transform “offenders” and “inmates” into college students and graduates thus increases public safety, strengthens families, and builds the economic and social opportunities needed for vibrant communities and a strong state.