Students in a Southwestern College class at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. UCI LIFTED’s initial cohort will recruit from Southwestern College students in prison with A.A. degrees ready for transfer.


History in the making is happening December 15, 2020 and you are invited!  Join the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in a Virtual Ceremonial MOU Signing event commemorating the First Bachelor Degree in Prison program offered by the UC system via zoom.  LIFTED (Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees) will extend access to currently incarcerated students, who have successfully completed an A.A. degree, to earn a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from UC Irvine. 

This event will highlight the MOU signing ceremony between UCI and CDCR, featuring remarks from: 

  • Howard Gillman, UCI Chancellor
  • Kathleen Allison, CDCR Secretary
  • Lande Ajose, Senior Policy Advisor for Higher Education to Governor Newsom
  • Brant Choate, Director, Division of Rehabilitative Programs
  • Marcus Pollard, Warden of Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJDCF) San Diego
  • Keramet Reiter, UCI Assoc. professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society and the School of Law and LIFTED Director
  • Gabe Rosales, UCI Graduate Student (PhD Student in Criminology, Law & Society)

As part of LIFTED, prisoners who earn an A.A. in sociology from Southwestern College with a GPA of at least 3.5 and meet all transfer requirements will be eligible for admission to UCI. They will be able to obtain a B.A. while serving their sentence or be eligible to matriculate on campus if they’re released before finishing their course of study. “Investing in UCI to establish the first UC bachelor degree in prison program will help unlock the brilliance and genius of individuals behind bars,” says Dr. Gary K. Michelson, founder and co-chair of the Michelson 20MM Foundation. “These investments embody the ethos of our work — innovative, catalytic, and transformational. We hope it will spark additional systemwide programs  to ensure students in our prisons achieve their highest academic potential.”  

The outcomes of this work will stretch far beyond the initial student cohort. The project is highly replicable, designed to grow in reach and impact over time, catalyzing other successful partnerships between community colleges, prisons, and University of California campuses to successfully provide bachelors degrees and high quality higher education for individuals incarcerated throughout the Golden State. Keramet Reiter, Associate Professor of Criminology, Law, and Society, as well as LIFTED Director says, “The program aims to help raise awareness of the available opportunities and develop new pathways for current and former prisoners to continue their education. It will also be a model for other departments at UCI besides sociology – and for campuses beyond ours, so that B.A. programming options will be offered across the UC system.”  Hear directly from Professor Reiter highlighting the mobilization of UCI to launch LIFTED in a November 10th KUCI podcast.  In the interview, Professor Reiter shares her 20 years of expertise from teaching in prisons and discusses the benefits of a UC bachelors degree for students in prison, as well as our communities.  

Not only is UCI establishing an infrastructure replicable across the UCs, but they are conceptualizing the program as an engine of discovery, generating knowledge to support better prison higher education programs in California and elsewhere. The evidence is clear that extending higher education to people who are currently or formerly incarcerated benefits individuals, families, communities, and society. For individuals, completion of a B.A. degree is a proven and effective step to successful reentry from prison to community, ultimately enabling formerly incarcerated individuals to support themselves and their families.  

“Many justice-involved students return home with multiple associate degrees, but no bachelor’s degree. We want to change that. These scholars are ready for the academic rigor and economic benefits afforded by a Bachelor’s degree,” shares Emily Blake, Michelson 20MM Smart Justice Program Officer. “We could not have asked for more committed partners than the UCI team to advance this effort. Returning home with a bachelor’s degree will be key to helping these hardworking individuals find good jobs in our knowledge economy.”

As California continues to lead the nation in reforming its sentencing laws to shorten terms of incarceration, the public safety benefits of prison education, especially the impressive evidence that higher education cuts recidivism rates in half, is increasingly relevant to communities across the state. Finally, society benefits as the overall cost of incarceration falls, the tax-base of the state increases, crime rates decrease, and higher education benefits the upward economic mobility of more Californians. In providing seed financial support for this work, Michelson 20MM hopes it will lay the groundwork for other bachelor’s degree programs in prisons throughout the state and beyond. 

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. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon and inventor Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson. Visit us at