Tuesday, March 21, 2023
HomeEducationColleges aim to support a growing number of formerly incarcerated students

Colleges aim to support a growing number of formerly incarcerated students

FULLERTON, Calif. — On an unremarkable November morning, Jimmie Conner is hunched over his laptop at a dining table in an open-concept kitchen flooded with light. The fourth-year student at California State University, Fullerton, lives in the John Irwin House, a residence for formerly incarcerated students just over four miles from the CSUF campus. The house, in a pleasant Orange County neighborhood with a park, a reservoir, and horse stables, is furnished in a modular style. Two chairs by the fireplace sit ready for one-on-one tutoring, a cluster of ottomans nearby can accommodate a study group, and spaces to hunker down with a book or notes abound: a couch by the front door layered with pillows and blankets, a desk tucked into a corner, a fire table on the patio, and a backyard. Before living here, Conner was at a halfway house, and for the 14 years before that, he was in prison, most recently at the California Men’s Colony.

The walls of the John Irwin House are more window than anything else, like another space at CSUF designed for formerly incarcerated students: the library’s “study and hangout place,” with its sparkling floor-to-ceiling panes, formally known as the Center for Hope and Redemption. Amid all this glass, Conner feels a bit like Cinderella—lucky to be getting an educational experience that’s a perfect fit for him.

Colleges and universities are expecting an influx of students like Conner soon. The vast majority of incarcerated people are currently ineligible to receive Pell Grants, federal financial aid for low-income students. But that decades-long ban will end this summer, thanks to legislation passed in 2020. Nicholas Turner, the president of the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit focused on criminal justice reform, estimates that more than 767,000 people will be able to apply for funds to pursue a credential or a degree through an in-prison education program. At least 95 percent of the people in American prisons are eventually released, with more than 600,000 released each year. These numbers make it clear that the United States will soon have many more people reentering society prepared to attend classes on a college campus.

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