College of the Redwoods


Cal Poly Humboldt

College Matters | CR improves access to education for incarcerated folks

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, October 19, 2023 - 1:00pm

For the past several years, College of the Redwoods has sought to extend higher education to the incarcerated populations in Del Norte and Humboldt counties through our Pelican Bay Scholars Program. As an institution, we believe that rehabilitation is an essential part of the correctional system, and when we bring education into those environments, we help ensure students have a better chance of remaining outside of the prison system once they are released.

I have often spoken about how proud we are of our prison education program that allows us to provide face-to-face instruction in a maximum-security environment. Our Pelican Bay enrollment has increased 13% over the past four years, and we continue to increase the number of courses we offer each year.

As our program at Pelican Bay flourished, Cal Poly Humboldt President Dr. Tom Jackson recognized the need to offer bachelor’s degrees to our incarcerated scholars. Owing to the successful collaboration between CR, Cal Poly Humboldt, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Cal Poly’s first cohort of 20-25 incarcerated students who have completed their associate degrees with CR, will have an opportunity to start a B.A. in Communication next fall semester.

But this is not the only way we are reaching justice-involved individuals. CR also has a substantial track record of providing instruction in our county jails. College of the Redwoods’ Adult and Community Education program began scheduling face-to-face and correspondence classes in the Humboldt County Correctional Facility (HCCF) in 2016.

We offer both a noncredit and for-credit addiction studies class that fosters a deep understanding of addiction from sociological and psychological perspectives; a noncredit high school equivalency program designed to prepare students for the GED or HiSET test; a developing literacy course that enhances critical thinking skills and prepares students for for-credit classes; and getting started with computers, providing proficiency in Office Suite, an important skill in the modern age. We firmly believe that these offerings equip students with valuable skills and opportunities that can potentially steer them away from involvement with the justice system later in life.

I am also happy to share that we just recently received a grant award of $1.5 million to develop a unique program for justice-involved juveniles. The Redwoods Rising Scholars Program (RRSP) will allow us to use the knowledge we’ve gained over the last several years providing instruction to incarcerated adults at Pelican Bay and in the jail to expand our focus to include juveniles.

The RRSP will focus on two key areas: direct instruction and robust student support to best ensure persistence, retention, academic program completion, transfer preparation and/or workforce preparation. Academic programming will focus on providing justice-impacted youth the opportunity to dual enroll in college-level coursework (allowing students to earn both high school and college credits simultaneously) as well as to engage in concurrent enrollment (earning college credit), where appropriate.

Additionally, the project will also provide support for students to participate in GED preparation and HiSET testing and to enroll in ESL coursework where necessary.

This program will represent strong partnerships with colleagues at both the Humboldt County Office of Education’s Court and Community Schools and with the Humboldt County Probation Department and Juvenile Hall. It also represents a strengthening of our partnership with Cal Poly Humboldt, specifically with their “Project Rebound” program that supports formerly incarcerated and justice-involved individuals enrolled at Cal Poly Humboldt.

We know that higher education reduces recidivism, changes lives, and builds stronger communities. Community colleges are accustomed to addressing challenges faced by a variety of student populations, and this grant will enable CR to implement an effective program to reach justice-impacted youth early and provide them with essential tools and skills that can significantly alter their trajectories, redirecting them towards education and away from the justice system.

I am extremely proud of the work we are continuing to do to combat the impacts of mass incarceration, and I would like to thank all of our partners in this endeavor: Cal Poly Humboldt President Dr. Tom Jackson and Provost Dr. Jennifer Capps, HCCF’s Inmate Programs Coordinator Bryce Arnold and his staff, CR Dean Rory Johnson, CR staff members Tory Eagles and Jonathan Maiullo, and the many CR faculty who teach in the prison and jail, for without you, this work would not be possible.

Dr. Keith Flamer is the president of the College of the Redwoods.