The Michelson Smart Justice Initiative

Justice In Education.

Our Approach

Creating innovative pathways to educational attainment, employment, and economic opportunity for justice-impacted communities and people.

Our Values

Equity

Opportunity

Dignity

We support these values for all people, including those impacted by the justice system.

The Landscape

College is out of reach for most people with justice-involvement.

  • Just over half of people released from prison are unemployed in the year after they reenter the community.

 

 

  • State and Federal Financial Aid are not widely available for individuals who have justice-involvement. Federal Pell Grants are not available for people who are incarcerated, and convictions for certain offenses may limit FAFSA eligibility for people in the community.

 

  • Communities of Color are the most impacted by inequitable access to education and over-representation in the justice system. Black men make up 40% of the prison population yet represent only six-percent (6%) of college students in California. Black and Hispanic women exiting incarceration experience unemployment rates that are five-times higher than the national average and far higher than rates experienced during the Great Depression.  

 

  • Studies have shown that providing postsecondary education to individuals impacted by the justice system can yield enormous economic, fiscal, and social benefits for students, communities, and our society at large.

 

  • Educational attainment, even in a prison setting, has been shown to increase employability, wage-earning, and quality of life for people who are re-entering our community. Education also has the potential to improve generational outcomes for families who experience justice-involvement.

Our Focus Areas

Higher Education in Prison

Working to create, strengthen, and expand the “school-in-prison” pipeline.

We envision a world where prisons become a gateway to higher education, rehabilitation, and for most, reintegration back into the community.  Many individuals complete their GED while incarcerated, and then go no further in their education. Why stop there?

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Leverage state funding for postsecondary education in prisons.

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Remove barriers to accessing Federal Pell Grants in correctional institutions.

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Improve access to affordable educational technologies and quality academic materials in prison.

FAST FACTS

  • Postsecondary education has been shown to save taxpayers and state governments money by reducing recidivism, and lowering resulting costs associated with reincarceration.

Support for Formerly Incarcerated Students

Bridging the gap to postsecondary education for systems-impacted communities.

The same communities that experience justice-involvement have also been consistently underserved by our education system, creating a huge gap in attainment moving up the rungs of the educational ladder. It is critical that we adapt and refocus resources on people who have never received a first chance to succeed in school.

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Expand the capacity of campus-based programs to serve formerly incarcerated students.

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Develop targeted cohort-based learning communities for youth with justice-involvement.

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Support back-end strategies for engaging students exiting incarceration.

FAST FACTS

A survey of 40,000 students at 57 California Community Colleges indicated that:

  • 50% of respondents were food insecure in the prior 30 days,
  • 60% of respondents were housing insecure in the previous year,
  • 19% of respondents were homeless in the previous year.
  • One year of community college costs around $10,000 per year, including academic and non-academic expenses. The average formerly incarcerated person makes an average of $19,000 per year
  • 90% of individuals who are incarcerated will be released back into the community at some point. Most of these individuals lack the basic education and skills needed to be hired. 

Pathways to Economic Opportunity

Removing occupational and educational barriers for people with a criminal record.

People with criminal records experience chronic joblessness, unemployment, and poverty at rates that are much higher than the average American. Many of these barriers persist years after someone has served their time and completed rehabilitative programming.

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Removing occupational and educational barriers for people with criminal records.

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Connecting formerly incarcerated people with opportunities to build specialized, marketable skills for the 21st century workforce.

FAST FACTS

  • “The economy suffers from incarceration. In 2014, the nation lost the equivalent of 1.7 to 1.9 million workers because of imprisonment.
  • The population of formerly incarcerated people and people with felony convictions are estimated to cost the U.S. $78.1 to $86.7 billion in lost economic output (Bucknor & Barber, 2016).”

How do we achieve impact?

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Policy Education & Analysis

Developing strategies to meet challenges in criminal justice and higher education.

Catalytic Grant-Making

Funding partner organizations to build capacity and create social impact.

Technical Assistance

Providing content expertise to guide successful implementation of justice programs and practices.

Coordination and Convening

Bringing together practitioners, thought leaders, and students to create positive and meaningful change.

The Student Perspective

“For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like a ‘lost cause’. I feel good about myself; I have direction and hope for the future. I am learning the importance of higher education, which I plan to pass on to my children. Thanks to college, I am finally on the right path to becoming a success story, and a human being again.”

“Being able to earn my A.A. degree has begun redefining my image and reputation. My family see me and respect my choice of getting educated while in prison. But even better, I have been graced with the opportunity to transfer to San Francisco State University once released next year. This is major, because it gives me a place to go and to become the role model I want to me.”

“This program has made all the difference in my rehabilitation behind these walls. I have spent countless hours studying for exams, writing research papers, tutoring, mentoring, and giving my all to ensure I do the best I can in each class. This opportunity has given me confidence in the classroom I never had before. I am a better person.”

“For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like a ‘lost cause’. I feel good about myself; I have direction and hope for the future. I am learning the importance of higher education, which I plan to pass on to my children. Thanks to college, I am finally on the right path to becoming a success story, and a human being again.”

“Being able to earn my A.A. degree has begun redefining my image and reputation. My family see me and respect my choice of getting educated while in prison. But even better, I have been graced with the opportunity to transfer to San Francisco State University once released next year. This is major, because it gives me a place to go and to become the role model I want to me.”

“This program has made all the difference in my rehabilitation behind these walls. I have spent countless hours studying for exams, writing research papers, tutoring, mentoring, and giving my all to ensure I do the best I can in each class. This opportunity has given me confidence in the classroom I never had before. I am a better person.”

– Students at Cerro Coso Community College, Incarcerated Student Education Program

Learn More

 

 

 

For additional information about the Smart Justice Initiative, and how you can support our current work, please contact:

Allison Berger, Program Officer