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EDITORIAL: San Quentin college accreditation will help inmates bridge gap

Marin Independent Journal - 4/9/2022

Apr. 9—If we're serious about ending recidivism, the accreditation of Mount Tamalpais College for San Quentin Prison inmates meets that goal.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has reviewed the prison school's curriculum and educational standards and given its courses accreditation as community and junior college credits.

Free courses have been offered to San Quentin inmates for years, providing a college preparatory program and an associate's degree program in hopes that its students can make use of their education when they fulfill their terms and are released from prison.

In addition, the hope is that the educational opportunities and advantages will lead them away from returning to the criminal behavior that led to their prison sentences.

One school leader calls it "an important turning point."

According to a story posted on the Inside Higher Ed website, the college serves about 300 students and is mostly funded by private philanthropy.

College courses have been offered for years, mostly through a connection to a for-profit private college. Tamalpais College has taken over the job, forming an independent program.

Accreditation is educational recognition that the college's offerings have the same standards as schools outside of the prison's walls.

The story quotes Shannon Swain, the superintendent of the Office of Correctional Education for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, as saying such programs bolster "morale" where "they're focused on their own recovery, they're focused on their future, and it influences the people around them."

It is also an example of bridging an equity gap where for many people a college education was socially and financially out of reach.

Many of the independent school's former students are now furthering their education, enrolled at California State University and University of California campuses.

Earning accreditation is also a "turning point" for the growth of the school and helps broaden public awareness that access to education is an important human right.

The college's goals include development of a computer lab and strengthening its science, technology, engineering and math offerings.

Prison warden Ronald Bloomfield says the independent college offers its students "an amazing high-quality education."

Its faculty members are volunteers, many of them Marin residents or educators from local colleges and universities, among them University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University.

These generous volunteers want to help others steer their lives away from crime and prison.

"Graduates leave the college with knowledge and skills essential to becoming productive citizens," Bloomfield said.

That's a goal aimed at keeping them out of prison after they have served their time of lost freedom.

Giving them a strong foundation for a new start, complete with the tools, goals and hope that education can offer, may be a well-earned ticket away from the criminal behavior that led them to San Quentin.


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