California Institution for Women (CIW) is the oldest women’s prison in California and is reported to have a suicide rate five times the state average and eight times the national average.
Faculty report that the students at CIW are at least as talented as UCLA students and many are far more serious about education, having had little or no access to upper division college and graduate courses. UCLA faculty have expressed, without exception, they have had some of their best teaching experiences at CIW. The students have limited stimulation, and thus have time to think, evaluate, and imagine. Consider the literary and religious works penned in jails or prisons, and the activists, philosophers, scientists and artists and who have been imprisoned.
The UCLA pilot program was based on what is called the concurrent enrollment, or “inside-out,” model, where 15 incarcerated students were enrolled alongside 15 (graduate and upper-level-undergraduate) UCLA students taken to CIW by buseach week. This is an utterly unique, transformative opportunity for UCLA students to learn alongside incarcerated students, and may significantly complicate their understanding of “freedom.” According to faculty that have been teaching at CIW, incarcerated students are far more eager to speak up and ask hard questions. So, what does it mean when imprisoned people speak freely, and free students often do not?
The 2015 report by the Stanford and UC Berkeley Law Schools, Degrees of Freedom: Expanding College Opportunities for Currently and Formerly Incarcerated Californians offers further arguments for prison education programs. Those with access to these programs (and their families) are more likely to find work and less likely to live in poverty. Increased family financial stability leads to increased stability in personal/family life, improved health, and a strengthening of intergenerational mentorship. The quantifiable societal benefits are abundant:reduced costs of incarceration, an increased tax base, and a reduced strain on social services.