As part of its continued mission to reduce barriers to education, Cabrillo College is expanding its efforts to serve incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students, including a new partnership with the county’s Rountree Medium Facility.
Starting in April, the college will provide instruction at the county jail facility to help prepare residents for success after leaving the facility. The program will be further expanded in September to provide more on-campus resources for students who are justice-impacted (which includes those have experienced incarceration and those with arrest and conviction histories.)
According to a 2018 study conducted by the Prison Policy Initiative, about a quarter of formerly-incarcerated people in the U.S. have less than a high school diploma or GED. And after release from jail or prison, there are huge barriers to accessing higher education including financial aid restrictions, discriminatory admission practices and much more.
Addressing these disparities and serving incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students is core to the California Community Colleges. The state’s community college system operates the Rising Scholars Network, serving close to 20,000 justice-involved students on campuses and prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers across the state.
Through the Rising Scholars Network, Cabrillo has received grant money to help fund its efforts on campus and at the Rountree facility in Watsonville, including paying for staffing and expanded student resources. Cabrillo will also now be connected to a statewide network of similar programs around the state, providing support and other resources along the way.
“We’re trying to really strengthen how formerly incarcerated people get education. We’ve been trying to build this for a while - expanding and revisiting a mission we had with the ACE (academic and career excellence) program.”
— Matt Wetstein, Cabrillo College President
In April, the program will kick off with a selection of six-week courses that will be taught by Cabrillo instructors at the Rountree facility with a focus on career preparation and personal development. These courses will emphasize skills such as self-discipline, personal accountability, teamwork and collaboration, said Dr. John Escobedo, dean of Cabrillo’s BELA (business, English and language arts) division.
Students will attend classes at the facility and complete assignments, with instructors working closely with the Sheriff’s Office to understand each individual’s timeline for discharge.
“The goal is to create a plan for short-term professional and personal goals,” explained Escobedo, to help prepare students and enable success after they are released from the facility.
That will include academic counseling aimed at helping the participants find pathways to school, and better prepare for success at college once they enroll. All of these components are meant to be stepping stones to eventually enrolling in and successfully completing on-campus courses at Cabrillo. That extends to the second part of this program, which is focused on expanding resources for formerly-incarcerated students who attend courses at Cabrillo College.
Study after study has shown that earning a college degree or credential significantly increases an individual’s chances of overcoming post-incarceration challenges, and opens the door for new careers, economic opportunities and much more.
Eli Chance, who heads up Cabrillo’s Student Resource Support Network, said these efforts will include adding more vocational and technical education courses, working with department chairs, and providing a wealth of on-campus resources to help ensure successful completion of courses.
A lot of emphasis will be placed on helping this population build marketable skills. This extends beyond just those students who participate in the Rountree program. To identify those students who could benefit from these expanded on-campus resources, the college will be asking on-campus students to self-disclose if they’re justice-impacted.
“We want to be a one-stop shop to help remove traditional barriers to enrollment. The core of this goal is helping justice-impacted individuals move beyond the contemplation phase of community college enrollment to actually enrolling.
— Eli Chance, Cabrillo’s Student Resource Support Network
This is all core to Cabrillo’s ongoing mission to help reduce barriers to entry and enable success for all students, and the college continues to make huge strides on initiatives such as student housing, tuition assistance, on-campus child care
There will be a huge peer support component of the program, said Chance, which may also include hiring some program participants to serve as counselors and guides for others. That includes establishing a Rising Scholars Club on campus to bring these students together and provide support.
“All students need to feel welcome and they need a community to be successful,” said Escobedo. “This is really about removing barriers and interrupting the cycle of criminal justice.”