Incarcerated students in California are participating in a groundbreaking master’s program, marking a significant step in the restoration of higher education opportunities in prisons. The program, a collaboration between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and Cal State Dominguez Hills, was launched in September and is exclusively designed for incarcerated students.
The master’s program in humanities is a revamp of a similar degree that was discontinued in the last decade due to declining enrollment. After lobbying by incarcerated students and with the help of professor Matthew Luckett, the program’s director, the CDCR partnered with Cal State Dominguez Hills to restore the degree program.
The program allows students to take courses online through a state-issued laptop, submit assignments, and communicate with professors. Plans for limited in-person instruction and more interactive online discussion boards are being developed. Courses include topics such as graduate humanities, modern Nobel laureates, and the history of American punishment and incarceration.
Luke Scott, who is serving a life sentence for murder, is one of the 33 students enrolled in the master’s program. Scott had previously earned eight associate’s degrees and a bachelor’s degree while in prison. He dedicates approximately seven to eight hours a day to his studies, in addition to participating in rehabilitative programs and group therapy sessions.
The program is part of California’s efforts to shift away from tough-on-crime policies and focus on rehabilitation and reducing recidivism. Over the past decade, the state has expanded education programs in partnership with community colleges and universities in prisons. This year, more than 800 incarcerated individuals received associate’s degrees, while 17 earned their bachelor’s degrees.
The master’s program requires applicants to have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.5 grade-point average. The cost of the degree is approximately $10,500, which students or their families must pay. Financial aid is available through the Department of Rehabilitation and donations to cover tuition are being accepted by Cal State Dominguez Hills.
The CDCR and Cal State Dominguez Hills view the program as a pioneering model that could serve as an example nationwide. Despite initial challenges, such as internet access restrictions and logistical issues, the program aims to provide incarcerated individuals with educational opportunities and hope for the future.