Inmates at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego will now have a chance to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UC Irvine.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and UCI signed a memorandum of understanding on the design of what the university says is the first in-prison bachelor of arts program offered by the University of California system. The memorandum was signed on Wednesday.

The program, which is called Leveraging Inspiring Futures Through Educational Degrees or LIFTED, is expected to begin in fall 2022.

Keramet Reiter, an associate professor of criminology, law and society and director of the LIFTED program, said Wednesday that recidivism of inmates returning to their communities is “greatly diminished” if they earn a college degree while incarcerated.

“Education is in fact the most powerful tool we have to reintegrate formerly incarcerated people into our communities, reduce recidivism and protect public safety,” Reiter said. “More importantly, education is a tool for overcoming the injustice and stigma of mass incarceration, transforming lives and communities.”

The university said up to 25 incarcerated students at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility who have earned an associate’s degree in sociology through Southwestern College in Chula Vista will be able to further their educations through the LIFTED program. The existing UC transfer track will be available to those with a grade-point average of at least 3.5 and meet all the eligibility requirements.

Students will be able to earn their degrees while serving their sentence or be enrolled for on-campus classes if they finish their sentence before completing their course of study.

“As chancellor of UCI, I am so pleased to see my campus take the lead in breaking new ground to expand our educational reach to students in our state prisons,” UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman said during a press conference on Wednesday.

“LIFTED’s focus on students who are incarcerated is entirely commensurate with our deep and abiding commitment to excellence, equity and access,” Gillman said. “Providing a UC education to students in state prison will help us make good on our promise to provide a high-quality education to Californians, regardless of their circumstances. LIFTED will transform lives for those in prison in ways that higher education already does for millions of students.”

The first cohort of students in the LIFTED program are expected to complete their degrees in sociology in 2024.

“Our goal is to ensure that the people in our custody get skills, tools and resources to prepare them for life on the outside,” said California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Kathleen Allison in a statement. “I am a firm believer that a college education can make a huge difference in a person’s life, and I am committed to expanding educational opportunities across our system.”

“I want to thank the University of California, Irvine, for this partnership and for their commitment to offer a new path for our incarcerated population,” Allison said.

Original article can be found here.