Help with School and Jobs for Formerly Incarcerated
By Dianne Anderson
Formerly incarcerated students are making it to the finish line with their baccalaureate or master’s degrees in hand at Cal State San Bernardino, thanks to Dr. Annika Anderson where her program participants go on to become teachers, lecturers, and engineers.
They’re not just squeezing by in life, they’re doing good work and giving back to their communities. Some even run their own reentry programs.
“They have graduated and they’re on their way, I think what I’m most proud of is that a lot of them want to contribute to society, of 13 of them in our study, most within three months were employed after they graduate,” said Dr. Anderson, executive director and principal investigator for CSUSB Project Rebound.
Through her research, she understands the twisted pipeline to prison trajectory, but for her, it is close to home.
Anderson has never been caught up in the justice system, but became interested in her specialty field of criminology from a desire to help some of her own formerly incarcerated relatives return to a productive life.
Her program averages about 50 participants, and most stick it out until graduation. Many come back to participate in alumni events, attend graduations, volunteer or talk at conferences.
One participant, now an alumna, also contributed to recent research on career building for formerly incarcerated students who graduated from CSUSB, who attribute their success to the program, and the university-level job preparation.
Anderson, also a sociology professor, reaches them while incarcerated, and keeps reaching out until they are released.
“Then we figure out the educational path from there [and see] if they’re ready to get their AA degree at community college, or if they have enough credits to transfer to the university,” she said.
Anderson was selected in 2016 as a Summer Research Institute Fellow for The Racial Democracy, Crime & Justice Network at Rutgers University-Newark’s School of Criminal Justice.
Through her program, students are introduced to the campus and get acclimated to what will become their main priority. One-on-one interaction is key.
She takes them to lunch, and meets informally to maintain strong connections within her three offices.
Lately, her program and research work closely with Inland County Legal Services to explore why people of color and formerly incarcerated may be disproportionately hit by debt collectors.
In hard times, Black and Brown consumers are more likely low income, not in permanent housing, or unable to properly access mail. In the past few years, American household debt broke records this month, now pushing $17 trillion.
On one recent grant, her program is expanding into juvenile facilitates to work with the prison education system and partner to co-facilitate 21 classes.
Being formerly incarcerated does not mean being unable to learn. Among her recent graduates, one is a contractor, an electrical engineer, another is a program director, a case manager and a college instructor.
Often, society is curious about how people wind up in the justice system, but that’s one question she never asks. In the course of a student’s future career path, the subject may come up, but for the most part, the program is about where they go from here.
“That’s something we have to help them navigate. We don’t ask what they’ve done, but to keep myself laser-focused on their rehabilitation and reentry, I try to lead their path forward,” she said.
Another local program, the San Bernardino Reentry Initiative also helps Inland Empire parolees get back on track. Within their locations, that program has helped about 11,000 parolees.
At any given point, Andrea Mitchel, director of research and development at Cal State’s reentry center, said about 50% of their CSRI participants are employed.
“Certain areas have higher employment rates. The Coachella Valley employment rate is significantly higher than that of the High Desert. It’s just rough to obtain employment in the High Desert. The Coachella Valley has a strong economy with many employers willing to hire individuals with histories of justice-involvement,” Mitchel said in an email.
Roughly 10 to 15% of participants come to CSRI unsheltered, but most obtain housing while involved in the programming, and she said very few leave the program unhoused. Currently, CSRI partners with approximately 15 housing providers offering safe and sober housing for about fifty CSRI participants.
Anyone who is on parole and interested in the CSRI program can request to participate by talking to their parole officer, who will complete a referral to her organization. Her program will then contact the parolee.
This year, there is a lot of excitement around services. During COVID-19, case management and classes were high quality and held virtually, but she said a small percentage of participants were not able to access programs online.
However, the Virtual Cal State Reentry Initiative (vCSRI) program is bridging the gap in services for those who lack transportation, have health issues, live in remote areas, or are working full time.
“After CSUSB returned to onsite programming, CSRI did the same, but added the vCSRI site for qualified individuals. This program continues to grow to meet the needs of individuals on parole and the needs of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,” she said.
For more information or to request services, see CSUSB Project Rebound at https://www.csusb.edu/project-rebound
For more information and help for parolees, see CSRI at https://www.csricenters.org/