By Kenia Miranda Verdugo

It’s that time of the year where we reflect on the last twelve months’ accomplishments and also take a look ahead.

We kicked off the year by awarding Smart Justice Michelson Spark Grantees: Impact Justice, Public Policy Institute of California, and A New Way of Life. Their projects will: 

  • Bolster an alumni network, which includes training and professional development
  • Ensure that formerly incarcerated women in California and beyond truly benefit from an online cohort that will analyze any barriers students may face in accessing the online curriculums, as well as opportunities to mitigate the challenges to ensure maximum accessibility
  • Create a research report that will support a comprehensive understanding of CDCR programs offered and the experiences of those who have gone through the programs over a five-year time period.

Members of the Homeboy Industries team shared how they are exemplifying “California’s Best Practices: Pathways From Prison to College.”

Since the publication of California’s Best Practices: Pathways From Prison to College by the Smart Justice Think Tank, we’ve disseminated these best practices via conferences on higher education in prisons around the country. In conjunction, the Pathways from Prison to College series, featured subject matter experts and leaders who shared the steps we can take to help incarcerated students transition out of prison and thrive on college campuses.  

Earlier in the year, we partnered with RAND and Arnold Ventures to share RAND’s research on addressing employment barriers for individuals with convictions. During the month of February, we co-hosted a webinar event with RAND to bring awareness of these barriers and how we can support employers and implement policies to provide more career opportunities for those with convictions.

This year was also a pivotal year for incarcerated students as Pell Grants were reinstated. Bringing back this federal funding will allow for more in-prison programming throughout the country. During the reinstatement period, we must remain alert and aware of certain barriers in accessing these funds and how we can better support the rollout. Our sister foundation, the Michelson Center for Public Policy also celebrated the Governor signing AB 1418 (McKinnor), which will help protect tenants and residents with convictions from experiencing retaliation, evictions, and penalties for contacting law enforcement.

Celebrating Root & Rebound’s Decade of Impact Serving Justice-Impacted Individuals

Celebrating Root & Rebound’s decade of impact

Partnerships were strengthened as we sponsored the 2nd annual Prison to University conference, where leaders and stakeholders from educational institutions and organizations throughout the state gathered to discuss goals, collaborations, and policies. Additionally, we celebrated Homeboy Industries’ Lo Máximo Awards, Root & Rebound’s 10 Years of Impact Anniversary, and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition’s 10-Year Anniversary. We are immensely grateful for the relationships and future collaborations with these organizations.

This past month, Michelson 20MM attended the National Conference on Higher Education in Prisons (NCHEP) in Atlanta. Hundreds of individuals from institutions, organizations, foundations, and more reconvened at NCHEP to learn and share their experiences on how to “Close the Distance” —including by implementing “California’s Best Practices: Pathways From Prison to College.”

Kenia Miranda Verdugo gave a presentation at the National Conference for Higher Education in Prison.

Needless to say, 2023 has been a great year for the Smart Justice Initiative. We’ve learned so much from our partners and are working towards building programs that will help encourage and expand in-prison programming and career pathways. There is great momentum in California for the Smart Justice space, and we will continue to work to break barriers, become inspired, and build bridges.

Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation working toward equity for underserved and historically underrepresented communities by expanding access to educational and employment opportunities, increasing affordability of educational programs, and ensuring the necessary supports are in place for individuals to thrive. To do so, we work in the following verticals: Digital Equity, Intellectual Property, Smart Justice, Student Basic Needs, and Open Educational Resources (OER). Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

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