CSUSB Project Rebound: Emerge From Incarceration
By Dianne Anderson
Just about everyone has heard of the school pipeline to prison, but Dr. Annika Anderson knows the biggest challenge is in reversing that process.
Years ago, she wondered what happens when the formerly incarcerated stopped committing crimes, and when they set out to reintegrate back to society. She wanted to know how they are accepted, or shunned, in their journey through rehabilitation.
Her interest hit close to home.
“Having several family members who were formerly incarcerated got me into this type of work. I wanted to know what are the barriers to reentry? What are the conduits?” said Dr. Anderson, program director and principal investigator for Project Rebound at Cal State University, San Bernardino.
Anderson, who specializes in criminology, regularly goes into the prisons to talk with the incarcerated about their educational history, as well as their trajectory. She talks with them about how to move forward through their short and long term goals when they finally emerge from incarceration.
“We try to work with them when they’re incarcerated, that maybe you want to go to community college. After getting your associates, you can come here [to CSUSB], said Anderson, also a CSUSB sociology professor.
Her coordinator, who has a master’s degree in social work, and her intern, who is working on a master’s degree in social work, are both formally incarcerated. Statewide, she said one of the cornerstones of the Project Rebound program is that all the coordinators were formally incarcerated.
While Anderson has never been arrested or incarcerated, she understands the situation, both theoretically and practically.
“For folks coming out prisons or jails, they have trust issues. I might just look like another suit and tie, the institutional folks telling them when to go to sleep and when to wake up,” she said.
Requests for help pour in weekly, and she and staff regularly respond to family members looking to assist relatives with direction once they get out of prison. She is often asked to write character letters, which is a first step toward getting their records expunged.
In working closely with local community colleges, retention is an especially critical time after enrollment for vulnerable students. Her goal is to make sure they know they are welcome and a support system is available to them on campus.
But stepping on campus is somewhat of a litmus test for students that have spent time behind bars, as they try to fit into unfamiliar spaces.
“Like with any disadvantaged groups, we feel that impostor syndrome. We feel like we don’t belong. We feel not welcomed,” she said.
To counter all the negativity, new students are greeted by her staff at the gate or bus stop, and walked through campus resources, such as Adult Reentry. There, they connect with others that are successful through their same academic struggles.
Even so, not everyone is as thrilled with the idea of helping formerly incarcerated students, despite an abundance of data that shows how education is proven to reduce recidivism.
“Some people might say, why should we put money in a formerly incarcerated program? Aren’t there other students that need that money?” she said.
Frequently, she is called to speak at universities and conferences about the impacted population, and there is always someone in the audience trying to get back into school. The help isn’t singly about education, but it’s the process of having someone to talk to about housing assistance, employment barriers, or food insecurity.
Students need to know there is someone to turn to.
She believes that education is the way to counter the prison pipeline.
“Some of them go in and out of the system,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s very easy with minor parole violations. It’s easy to get back right in there.”
Students entering the Rebound Program must have 60 units to enroll, usually coming in from area community colleges. They should expect to work as hard as all other students, but they can get into the admissions process a quarter or two earlier than traditional students.
Reentry students learn to make their way through the barriers.
Even with ban the box, eventually employers will pop the question, but with time and distance from the offense, she said it is easier to get a job. Many formerly incarcerated do have to start off in menial work, but she has seen students with an associate degree work their way up within companies.
“It’s really thinking about yourself. You’ve been given a second chance, and that you really should take advantage of those opportunities,” she said.
To learn more about the program and resources, see https://www.csusb.edu/project-rebound