23 incarcerated students graduate from first-ever partnership with the University of California

As California continues to invest in building safer communities, 23 incarcerated students graduated with bachelor’s degrees from a first-of-its-kind partnership with the University of California.

Prioritizing rehabilitation and education programs to strengthen public safety, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation today announced the first ever graduation of incarcerated students with bachelor’s degrees through the University of California.

The inaugural class, through UC Irvine, includes 23 graduates from the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego who received in-person instruction led by UC Irvine professors.

“California is transforming its criminal justice system to focus on true rehabilitation, justice and safer communities statewide — known as the California Model,” said CDCR Secretary Jeff Macomber. “This collaboration with the University of California allows these graduates to build a foundation focused on pursuing educational opportunities that will prepare them for a successful future, while making our communities safer.”

The state continues to move toward a positive shift in correctional policy, through implementation of the California Model, which not only focuses on proper support for staff and survivors, but also fosters rehabilitative environments, including educational opportunities, for the incarcerated population, leading to safer communities overall.

Studies show that incarcerated individuals who participate in correctional education are 48 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than those who did not have access to these opportunities.

This collaboration between CDCR and the University of California is made possible by a formal agreement through a program known as Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees. LIFTED enables incarcerated students to apply to transfer into UCI as juniors and earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the university while serving their sentence.

“CDCR is proud to partner with the UC to greatly expand degree-earning opportunities for incarcerated students,” said Macomber. “Collaborative efforts between CDCR and California’s public higher education system are truly transforming lives. These efforts are vital, as education serves as a powerful rehabilitative tool.”

The program’s first cohort began taking faculty-led courses in fall 2022. That same year, Governor Gavin Newsom and the state legislature allocated $1.8 million over five years for the program’s support and expansion.

“Graduation is always a special day, not only for the graduates and their families, but for our entire university community,” said UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman. “It is no exaggeration that today’s graduation is extraordinarily special.”

“This is a historic occasion to celebrate both the first 23 incarcerated students earning bachelor’s degrees from a top 10 public university and a successful partnership between two major state institutions, who are working together to bring a world class public education into state prison,” said LIFTED Director and UCI Professor Keramet Reiter.

CDCR partners with California’s public higher education system to offer associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees through the California community colleges, the California State University, and the University of California. More than 13.5 percent of the entire incarcerated population are enrolled in college courses. 

How we got here
Today’s announcement builds on Newsom’s nation-leading efforts to strengthen public safety through justice reforms and innovation. Since taking office, the governor has placed a moratorium on the death penalty, bolstered support for victims and survivors of crime, ended the state’s use of private for-profit prisons, taken action to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, announced sweeping reforms to end juvenile imprisonment, advanced jury representation, expanded the number of Board of Parole commissioners, signed legislation to build trust between communities and law enforcement and announced record-level funding to bolster public safety, including through the Real Public Safety Plan.

Last year, Newsom announced the historic transformation of San Quentin State Prison and named experts to the San Quentin Transformation Advisory Council.