Sacramento, CA — Root & Rebound (R&R) Deputy Director of Programs Sonja Tonnesen-Casalegno (front row, far left), R&R client Keisha Murphy (second row, 4th from right), and R&R Associate Director of Legal Education Chloe Noonan (front row, far right) are joined by their fellow Ban the Box in Higher Education Coalition leaders from Project Rebound, Unlock Higher Ed, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Underground Scholars, and Time for Change Foundation, celebrating moments after providing testimony to the California Senate Education Committee, whose members unanimously voted in support of Ban the Box in Higher Education legislation on January 15, 2020.


Last year, we at Michelson 20MM launched our Smart Justice Initiative with a mission of advancing prosperity through higher educational attainment for the more than 70 million justice-impacted people in the United States. Postsecondary education creates pathways to financial success and there is a direct correlation between earnings and education level, especially in a labor market that continues to migrate away from low-skill jobs. However, at every turn in their reentry journey, formerly incarcerated people face discrimination in housing, benefits, employment, licensing, and even when attempting to obtain a college degree. 

Seventy percent of colleges in the United States report asking applicants about criminal history on admissions applications. Approximately two-thirds of college applicants with records do not complete their application once they notice the box asking them about their criminal backgrounds. This under-reported phenomenon, just one of the thousands of collateral consequences of incarceration, is discriminatory and disproportionately affects Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and People of Color, as well as low-income communities. The inequity results in the tragic loss of unmet academic potential, untapped genius, and an estimated economic loss of $78 to $87 billion in U.S. gross domestic product annually. 

In 2017 and 2018, inspired by the “Ban the Box” movement, California lawmakers began peeling back the complex layers of collateral consequences  by passing Fair Chance legislation in both employment and professional licensing. Thanks to successful campaigns led by formerly incarcerated people, educators, and advocates like those with Root & Rebound (R&R), over 8 million Californians with criminal records now have a fair chance at higher education and getting licensed for living wage careers without the immediate barrier of the background check. Both public and private employers, institutions of higher education, as well as more than 40 state professional licensing boards – from the Accountancy Board to the Veterinary Medicine Board – must now significantly modify their applicant review process with respect to arrest and conviction histories. 

Root & Rebound has been at the forefront of advocacy in passing these protections. The nonprofit is determined to restore power and resources to families and communities most harmed by mass incarceration. Michelson 20MM is proud to support their efforts with another Spark Grant. This latest grant award will allow the organization to train staff at key California higher education institutions and licensing boards on best practices for implementing the “Ban the Box” and Fair Chance policies that finally went into effect this year. R&R’s work in addressing collateral consequences has the capacity to set the framework for additional states, impacting millions throughout the country. We hope the success of this project catalyzes other state legislatures to pass and implement similar policies that advance opportunities in employment, education, housing, healthcare, debt relief, benefits, voting, and civic involvement for justice-impacted people . 

The first grant awarded to R&R in a prior Michelson Spark Grant cycle helped jumpstart their Incarceration to Education Initiative to increase equitable access to higher education institutions, degrees, and resulting career pathways for current and prospective students with records. This initiative ensures that these Californians interested in pursuing their college degree have a fair chance in higher educational institutions and are aware of their rights once they enroll. 

With more than 600,000 people released from U.S. prisons annually, and the expectation that number will increase in 2020, it has never been more imperative to address collateral consequences that create economic inequities for millions of people. “We are proud to partner with Root & Rebound on this important and impactful work to ensure the doors of opportunity and necessary reentry support for justice-involved individuals is available.”shared Dr. Gary Michelson.


Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon and inventor Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson. The Michelson 20MM Foundation is dedicated to supporting and investing in leading organizations, technologies, and initiatives that seek to transform learning and improve access to educational opportunities that lead to a meaningful career. Learn more at