SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF.— The County of Santa Clara is paving the way to higher education for men and women at Elmwood Correctional Facility and Main Jail in a new partnership with San Jose State University Research Foundation that offers credit-bearing, general education college courses to incarcerated individuals. Today, the Board of Supervisors approved a two-year, $325,000 contract that offers classes that will count toward community college and university coursework when incarcerated individuals transition back into the community. Fall classes begin in mid-September.
“The County is committed to providing individuals the re-entry tools needed to make a successful transition back into the community,” said Supervisor Cindy Chavez. “This is one of the reasons that our Reentry program has cut recidivism in half.”
The new college curriculum builds upon workshops and presentations that SJSU instructors have been providing to men and women in the Santa Clara County Correction System, including justice studies expungement law and career exploration. Instructors will teach six college coursework areas, two classes per 12-week period for up to 60 individuals per class, and include both instruction and tutoring. All courses are worth three units and most contribute to G.E. level classes needed before enrolling in upper-division coursework, and will count toward community colleges and universities. Classes will be offered in the areas of Justice Studies, Kinesiology, Philosophy, Child and Adolescent Development, Communication, Counselor Education, and English.
“We are committed to investing in educational opportunities that can help inmates avoid returning to jail,” said Board President Dave Cortese. “Our partnership with San Jose State University Research Foundation is one more building block to reducing recidivism rates in Santa Clara County.”
A 2014 study published by the RAND Corporation indicated that inmates who participated in correctional education programs had “43% lower odds of recidivating than inmates who did not.” According to Harvard University’s Prison Studies Project, higher education in prison programs reduces recidivism and translates into reductions in crime, savings to taxpayers, and long-term contributions to the safety and well-being of communities.
“Higher education is the key to success for many, and for inmates it’s a crucial strategy for improving their opportunities to succeed once they are released,” said Supervisor Mike Wasserman, Chair of the Board's Public Safety and Justice Committee. “It is imperative we explore innovative approaches that will benefit incarcerated men and women, their families, and the community.”
Said County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith, M.D., J.D., “In-custody college classes will enhance many aspects of their lives, and better prepare them to pursue vocational, career and educational opportunities after release. Funding a higher education program as part of Santa Clara County’s in-custody services is a solid investment in the health and safety of our communities.”
Fall classes will be offered two mornings per week, followed by the opportunity for tutoring and homework assistance in the afternoons from an SJSU graduate student specializing in that field of study. The first class to be offered to incarcerated women is JS 140E, a Record Clearance Project/Practical Legal Skills class from the Justice Studies Department. Students will learn a range of legal skills, including legal analysis, how to read a rap sheet, legal research, writing legal petitions and working with an interpreter. While this class focuses on clearing criminal records, the skills can be applied other career opportunities.
“Our Jail Reform Plan is committed to improving the education programs offered to inmates. They will be able to use their time productively attending class, exploring future career options, and focusing on positive changes in their lives,” said Interim Correction Chief Carl Neusel.
The first class being offered to men is Introduction to Kinesiology. Students will learn about skills and career opportunities for personal training, coaching, physical therapy and sports management. A career exploration class, planned for Summer 2017, will help participants identify their skills, provide education guidance and identify career opportunities.
"San Jose State University is pleased to collaborate with the County of Santa Clara to provide the men and women of Elmwood Correctional Facility and the Main Jail with the opportunity to take college courses for credit," said SJSU Research Foundation Executive Director Sandeep Muju. "SJSU instructors are invested in making sure these men and women are engaged in learning while in custody, and in connecting them with local colleges so that they can continue to take classes once they are back in the community."
In addition to instruction and tutoring, the program with SJSU will provide students with a critical connection to local community colleges when they are released from custody. Instructors will help students connect with the community colleges of their choice, helping to transition students as they continue their college education.
The full list of general education classes being offered includes: Introduction to Justice Studies (JS 010); Record Clearance: Practical Legal Skills (JS 140); Introduction to Kinesiology (Kinesiology 070); Personal, Academic and Career Exploration (EDCO 4); First-Year Writing (ENGL 1A); Logic and Critical Thinking (Philosophy 057); Public Speaking (COMM 020) & Public Speaking for Non-native Speakers (COMM 020N); Moral Issues (Philosophy 061); and Child and Adolescent Development Department: Child Development (ChAD 060).
The County Office of Reentry Services will monitor the program and provide quarterly reports to the Public Safety and Justice Committee and Re-Entry Network with updates on the contractor’s performance measures, successes and challenges.