Pitzer to expand inmate education program, begin offering bachelor’s degrees

Pitzer will be offering a bachelor’s degree to inmates at the California Rehabilitation Center, Norco. It has previously offered courses at CRC and the California Institution for Women (pictured). (Photo courtesy of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via Wikicommons)

Pitzer College plans to start offering full bachelor’s degrees to inmates at the California Rehabilitation Center, a medium-security state prison in Riverside County, according to Nigel Boyle, Pitzer’s dean of faculty.

The Inside BA program is currently going through an approval process and will be an expansion of the existing Inside-Out program, which allows 5C students to attend classes at the CRC alongside inmates at the facility.

The program initially began in 2015 with faculty and students volunteering at CRC. The following year, CRC inmates and Pitzer students were able to receive Pitzer credit for taking the classes.

Since 2017, students from all 5Cs have participated in the Inside-Out program, and report positive experiences.

It was eye-opening in many ways … the class shaped how I approach my whole college experience,” Giang Nguyen PZ ’20 said via email. “The program itself embodies Pitzer’s core value of social responsibility and its bold thinking towards traditional education.”

Boyle said Inside-Out classes will also start at Prototypes, a rehabilitation facility in Pomona for mothers serving sentences, the California Institution for Women and a juvenile detention camp next year.

The bachelor’s degree program will be exclusive to CRC initially, but Boyle hopes to expand it to other facilities as well.

“There are more people incarcerated in this valley than students in all of the [5Cs] put together,” he said.

Inmates who already have an associate degree are eligible to apply, and the program will take two years to complete, Boyle said. Many inmates currently get associate degrees through other programs available at CRC.

CRC warden Cynthia Tampkins spoke highly of Pitzer’s initiatives.

“My goal is to release these individuals with the education and tools they need to better equip themselves for a successful integration back into society,” Tampkins said via email. “Every stepping stone these inmates accomplish while in prison is one less hurdle they have to climb over to stay free.”

“There are more people incarcerated in this valley than students in all of the [5Cs] put together.” — Nigel Boyle

Romarilyn Ralston PZ ’14, a former California Institution for Women inmate who attended Pitzer through the New Resources program for nontraditional age students, said the Inside BA program is “the logical next step in the progression of what Pitzer College stands for.

“As a 47-year-old black woman on parole in transition after serving a life sentence, I was still able to make those connections and build those relationships,” she said. “That’s what the Pitzer experience has given me.”

Regular courses will begin in 2020 and the first class of inmates will graduate in 2022, Boyle said. The admission process, run by Pitzer’s Office of Admissions, will be selective. Boyle estimates 30 to 40 inmates will be eligible to apply and approximately five will be accepted.

Currently, Inside-Out classes are taught by interested faculty. Moving forward, faculty from all 5Cs will be recruited by Boyle to create a curriculum and teach classes based on the inmates’ self-designed major.

The program is supported by Pitzer’s Board of Trustees, and the 5C presidents and deans have visited the Inside-Out classes, according to Boyle.

Ralston praised Pitzer’s decision to implement the new bachelor’s program.

“I’m just so grateful that Pitzer is taking on this challenge and will be offering the Pitzer education, the Pitzer process, the Pitzer spirit to folks inside. Those men and women inside those prisons are going back to communities,” she said. “They’re going to be taking a little Pitzer with them.”

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