Brief Analyzing the Landscape of Reentry Services for Formerly Incarcerated Californians in Higher Education
An Essay for the Learning Curve by Elif Yucel
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In the past decade, state and federal legislation have expanded educational opportunities for currently and formerly incarcerated Californians. But most research on and resources for formerly incarcerated students has not been robust, particularly regarding educational access and reentry services for students pursuing higher education upon release. Securing employment can be difficult for formerly incarcerated individuals, and many return to school, especially to community colleges, which are the primary providers of reentry support on higher education campuses in California. Although not all formerly incarcerated people will pursue higher education, understanding the landscape for formerly incarcerated students in California can improve access and support for those who seek further education.

Key Numbers

  • Of Californians released from state prison in 2018 and 2019, 73 percent were released in Southern California counties.
  • Thirty-three percent of higher education institutions in California provide reentry services to formerly incarcerated students.
  • Sixty-five percent of colleges providing reentry services are in Southern California counties.
  • Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties have the highest number of California parolee releases, and 67 percent of the colleges in these counties have programs serving formerly incarcerated students.
  • Seventy-two percent of institutions providing reentry services to formerly incarcerated students are community colleges.


Ninety-four percent of people incarcerated in prisons will eventually be released. Transitioning back into society is challenging, as individuals must navigate a series of complex laws and institutional barriers. In addition to access and enrollment, many reentry programs on higher education campuses provide resources to support the needs of formerly incarcerated students, including academic support, social support, academic supplies, counseling and employment assistance, food and transportation, and legal and housing support. Seventy-seven percent of colleges provide academic support such as academic advising, tutoring services, and fee waivers and scholarships, and 69 percent of colleges offer social support such as peer mentoring. But resources for legal and housing support and employment assistance, which are offered at only 15 percent and 24 percent of colleges, respectively, could be more robust, considering they are some of the most challenging barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals to navigate.

To better serve students, policymakers and institutional leaders should consider ways to expand their offerings geographically and across institution type, as well as in the types of services they provide. Policymakers could prioritize funding streams for colleges to develop reentry programs and provide more substantive support for formerly incarcerated students pursuing higher education. Institutions providing in-prison education and reentry programming should hire formerly incarcerated people to run these programs and minimize barriers to their employment on campus. These steps could better ensure that formerly incarcerated people have the resources and supports they need to help them during this transition from prison and back into their communities.

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Additional Resources

Research Areas Education
Tags Higher education
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy