As of 2014, California had more state prisons and jails than University of California and California State University campuses combined. In the past few decades, California’s prison spending has spiked, which has had a detrimental effect on higher education and rehabilitation services. Unfortunately, the state of California has not reaped the economic benefits of this investment. We have struggled to address our state’s high recidivism rate. A 2013 study by the RAND Corporation and the U.S. Department of Justice found that inmates who participated in educational programs were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than those who didn’t participate. The study found that every dollar invested in prison education programs saves nearly $5 on later incarceration costs. It begs the question: Why has California spent so much money on prisons when many of us are struggling to pay for tuition, books and housing? Wouldn’t increased educational spending be a better investment?
UCLA and the UC have roles in promoting sound education and prison policy. Our university system should expand educational programs in state prisons and advocate for greater resources toward initiatives that counter recidivism. UCLA is the most applied-to university in a city with a high incarceration rate, in a country with the highest incarceration rate globally.
For the past quarter, I have spent my Fridays at the California Institute for Women in Corona, California. Don’t smile too much. While CIW’s name suggests it could be an academic institution for women, it is indeed one of California’s state prisons.
I have made this weekly trip as a participant in the African-American studies department’s pilot course entitled “Narratives of Change,” taught by Professor Bryonn Bain, a graduate of Harvard Law School who joined UCLA in fall 2015 and was featured in UCLA’s newsroom earlier this year.
“Narratives of Change” is not your typical humanities course taught on UCLA’s vibrant campus. For the past eight weeks, I have been enrolled in a course with some of the wisest and hardest-working women I have met in my life, who happen to be incarcerated, and who deserve a second chance. Amid the obstacles of solidifying weekly transportation and course materials for myself and the incarcerated women taking the course, me sharing a classroom space with 20 classmates resulted in one of the most engaging and challenging courses I have taken at UCLA.
As a finale to the course, we invited more than 200 members across the UCLA community and California, including Chancellor Gene Block, to our final class meeting Friday, June 3. At this event, we will highlight the potential of this phenomenal program piloted by the African-American studies department. We invite the UCLA community to participate in online conversations leading up to the event using #ReclaimCIW. Join us in the movement for education and justice.
Murphy is a fifth-year African-American studies and political science student and former USAC president.