A memorandum of understanding signed Tuesday between two Southern California colleges and the state’s prison system will give a cohort of 30 Southwestern College students at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility a pathway to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

At an online signing ceremony Tuesday morning, UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Kathleen Allison formalized the initiative called “Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees.”

Patrice Milkovich, Southwestern College’s restorative justice program director, has been working on the partnership for the last 18 months.

“I’m so proud to be part of this life-altering opportunity,” Milkovich said. “Today’s signing demonstrates the power education plays in the rehabilitation process. Delivering higher education inside correctional facilities is hard, but necessary work.”

Four years ago, Southwestern College was one of 67 colleges and universities selected for a Second Chance Pell pilot program by the U.S. Department of Education. What began locally with 50 students in the spring semester of 2016 has grown to 296 students taking 22 courses in spring.

The signing ceremony Tuesday included a recorded message from Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey.

Southwestern College has served more than 3,000 Donovan students since the program began, helping them earn degrees and certificates in business administration, liberal studies, arts and humanities and sociology. There are 39 Donovan students in the process of earning an associate degree for transfer in sociology who may be eligible for acceptance to the UCI bachelor’s program if they have earned a 3.5 GPA.

The 17 faculty and three counselors and tutors had been working with student inmates in person until the pandemic forced them to move their instruction to paper and pen in March, as no computers are allowed in the prison. The fall semester beginning in August continued through personalized education paper packets for each of the students.

Southwestern College Governing Board Member Leticia Cazares attended the online ceremony and said the program is an example of what can happen with equity-minded education and leadership.

“As a justice-impacted individual myself, I could not be more proud that Southwestern College, under the leadership of Patrice Milkovich and her amazing team, once again is leading the way in creating opportunities for all,” Cazares said.

Keramet Reiter, UC Irvine associate professor of criminology, law and society and the initiative’s director, said this program will help reduce recidivism and give graduating inmates the tools to be productive citizens.

— City News Service

Original article can be found here.