The Critical Need for Higher Education in Prison Programming

Higher education in prison programming reduces recidivism, increases community safety, and leads to economic prosperity – and it’s a key driver of justice reform.


prison education reform

Students in a Southwestern College class at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. Launched with support from Michelson 20MM, UC Irvine LIFTED’s initial cohort will recruit from Southwestern students in prison with associate degrees ready for transfer.

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Each year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons nationwide. Those who find work after their release earn a median annual wage of $10,000—the estimated cost of a year of community college. Two decades of research concludes that higher education in prison programming reduces recidivism, resulting in taxpayer savings, community safety, and economic prosperity. Additionally, higher education in prison programming improves the conditions of confinement for inmates and correctional staff.

Knowing the transformative effects of higher education, Michelson 20MM Foundation launched the Smart Justice Initiative (SJI) in 2019. SJI invests in justice innovation that incentivizes and promotes higher education and career success as a catalyst for individual and systemic change. Through a Michelson Spark Grant, Root & Rebound trained staff at key California higher education institutions and licensing boards on best practices for implementing “Ban the Box” and Fair Chance Hiring policies, which increased educational opportunities for 8 million justice-involved students.

Additionally, through a Michelson 20MM Spark Grant, SJI kickstarted the first University of California Bachelor of Arts program in prison through the University of California, Irvine (UCI). This initiative lays the groundwork for additional UC campuses to offer B.A. programming in prisons. Its investments include initiatives that support pregnant and parenting students, improve student access to public benefits, and develop recommendations to create permanent funding sources for student basic needs.

Through a Michelson Spark Grant, California State University, Long Beach will conduct a landscape analysis of the CSU system and will develop a best practices model for campuses seeking to become family-friendly. Additionally, a grant awarded to the Institute for College Access and Success will result in a comprehensive study analyzing the true cost of college in California by elevating students’ voices.

Find out more about the diverse areas in which Michelson Philanthropies are engaged, and Alya and Dr. Michelson’s commitment to “make the world a little less unfair” in our 2021 Impact Report.

Mar 15, 2021 | 20 Million Minds, News, Stories