A $25,000 donation from the Michelson 20MM Foundation will help kickstart the first in-prison B.A. completion program, LIFTED (Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees), in the UC system.

The grant will support program design and development, says Keramet Reiter, associate professor of criminology, law  and society and LIFTED director.

At least 95 percent of people in California prisons will return to their communities, and most will lack the tools to compete in today’s job market, she says, and educational programs lower recidivism, which leads to less crime and improved long-term public safety.

“Investing in UCI to establish the first UC bachelor degree in prison program will help unlock the brilliance and genius of individuals behind bars,” says Dr. Gary K. Michelson, founder and co-chair of the Michelson 20MM Foundation. “These investments embody the ethos of our work — innovative, catalytic, and transformational. We hope it will spark additional systemwide programs  to ensure students in our prisons achieve their highest academic potential.”

Many justice-involved students return home with multiple associate degrees, but no bachelor’s degree, adds Emily Blake, program officer of the Michelson 20MM Foundation. “We want to change that. These scholars are ready for the academic rigor and economic benefits afforded by a Bachelor’s degree. We could not have asked for more committed partners than the UCI School of Social Ecology team to advance this effort. Returning home with a bachelor’s degree will be key to helping these hardworking individuals find good jobs in our knowledge economy.”

As part of LIFTED, prisoners who earn an A.A. in sociology from Southwestern College with a GPA of at least 3.5 will be eligible for admission to UCI. They will be able to obtain a B.A. while serving their sentence or be eligible to matriculate on campus if they’re released before finishing their course of study.

The program aims to help raise awareness of the available opportunities and develop new pathways for current and former prisoners to continue their education, Reiter says. “It will also be a model for other departments at UCI besides sociology – and for campuses beyond ours, so that B.A. programming options will be offered across the UC system.”

— Mimi Ko Cruz