Lack of an education is one of a multitude of barriers that those coming out of jail or prison face. A college degree may seemingly be out of reach for many ex-offenders, but not those who participate in San Francisco State University’s Project Rebound.
This innovative program has a long history and a bright future as a blueprint for similar endeavors elsewhere.
It was founded in 1967 by John Irwin, who, after a five year stint at Soledad Prison, went to college, earned a PhD and became a noted sociologist and San Francisco State professor. He also saw the need to create a means of helping other ex-offenders get — or complete — an education post-release.
Program has helped hundreds
With the vision of turning former prisoners to scholars, Project Rebound, now part of Associated Students Inc., the student government organization, has helped hundreds of formerly incarcerated people earn four-year degrees.
In the past eight years alone, since current Executive Director Jason Bell took over, more than 100 people have graduated from San Francisco State and more than 300 have been admitted as part of the program. Getting into San Francisco State is not easy for many applicants, but it can be especially difficult for those just out of prison, since they may have a lot of gaps in their educational experience.
Part of special admissions
To help them, Project Rebound acts as part of a special admissions program. “They have admissions assigned to special caseloads,” Bell says. “We do additional advocacy for our students, just like is done for athletes and international students. Sometimes, if the person is outright denied at first, we can fight for them.”
In fact, that happens quite a lot, he adds. He and his staff of four – all formerly incarcerated themselves — recruit potential students by visiting local jails and prisons like San Quentin, where they talk to inmates and distribute fliers.
The program has become so well known that Bell says they get letters from every prison in California and also from some out of state, since California is sending some of its prisoners to out-of-state facilities in the name of population reduction.
Sometimes Bell’s staff corresponds with prisoners for years before they get out, helping them prepare the way for their future education. “Many of them can go straight into San Francisco State within months, or within the same year, of getting out,” he says. Once the program participants are admitted to S.F. State, they get special assistance with such things as lunches and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) passes, as well as $200 for books, all thanks to grants from such outside funders as the Columbia Foundation and the Registry Foundation.
Interns work one-on-one with Project Rebound students
S.F. State student interns – 40 in the second semester of 2013 – work one-on-one with Project Rebound students to help them navigate the system when they’re new and connect them with tutors and other services to help them succeed.
Although due to a lack of resources, the program does not offer any job placement, but Bell says that recently he’s been getting emails from ex-offender friendly employers who are interested in allowing people a fair chance at employment.
Over its nearly half century of existence, Project Rebound has changed the lives of more people than it can count. And it will achieve an even wider reach by assisting other colleges that want to launch similar programs. Bell and his team helped New Jersey’s Rutgers University establish a program about five years ago, and are working with Cal State University Fullerton and San Diego State University on a similar effort to help formerly incarcerated individuals in southern California get a college education. For more information contact: